Manager Dave Roberts will go with Rich Hill to start Game 2 of the NLDS for the Dodgers. This is with the dominant arm of Yu Darvish at his disposal. So why is Roberts going with Hill when Darvish is the clear cut number 2 starter?
Rich Hill signed a nice contract this offseason to stay with the Dodgers who traded for him at the 2016 trade deadline. He was an excellent addition last postseason in which he started in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS and pitched six shutout in Game 3 of the NLCS. He was the number two starter and did well. So it is clear that he is a legitimate number two option.
But Yu Darvish was acquired this trade deadline to be the thunder to Kershaw’s lightning. Despite this, Roberts is going with Hill. There is a simple explanation for this. It all comes down to effectiveness at home vs. on the road.
Since the Dodgers have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the number 3 starter will be pitching on the road.
Hill has been much better at home than on the road. In particular, he has not had good experiences at both Chase Field and Coors Field.
With the Dodgers matching up against either the D-Backs or Rockies it would not be in the team’s best interest to start Hill on the road at those notoriously hitter-friendly ballparks.
In his career, Rich Hill has a 10.38 ERA at Chase Field and an 8.80 ERA at Coors Field. This season at home he has a 2.77 ERA. Take him away from Chavez Ravine, and he has a 4.06 ERA.
It is clear that he is a better pitcher while pitching in Los Angeles. That is why Roberts prefers to have Hill start Game 2 rather than the newly acquired ace Yu Darvish.
Many might ask why Roberts doesn’t go Left-Right-Left to begin the series. With the fourth starter likely being left-handed also (Wood or Ryu), no matter where he slots Darvish, there will be back to back lefties somewhere. Roberts decided that he felt more comfortable starting off with back to back lefties rather than end with that.
Starting Hill in Game 2 is especially meaningful if the opponent is the Rockies. The air in the mile high city does not allow breaking balls to bite quite as much.
With a pitcher like Rich Hill who relies heavily on that curveball, it can be dangerous pitching in Colorado. Sometimes the ball breaks regularly but more often than not, that breaking ball is flatter than usual and can hang for the mashers in the Rockies’ lineup to punish Rich Hill.
On the other hand, Yu Darvish is an ideal pitcher to have pitch in Colorado. He is a power pitcher, and that plays very well up in Coors. That is why the Rockies usually tend to target power pitchers like Jon Gray. Yu Darvish’s big arm and the plethora of options that he has to get batters out will be a better fit to pitch in Colorado over the curveball reliant Rich Hill.
This is not about Hill being better than Darvish and earning the second spot in the rotation. This is about the match-ups that are coming. Darvish’s stuff seems to play well anywhere if he’s on.
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On the other side, Rich Hill could be spinning it well in Denver but not get the break he needs which means Arenado and co. will be having a contest to see how far they can hit the ball.
Now if the Dodgers play the D-Backs, it isn’t so much the natural elements that will affect him but the dynamics of Chase Field. Chase Field was the third friendliest ballpark for hitters.
A lot of this is due to how much room there is to work with in the outfield. Not to say the Hill is not good enough to pitch here but the proof is in the pudding with his ugly 10.38 ERA there.
It would just be better for the pitcher with the most dynamic stuff to pitch in such a hitter-friendly park. That player in this situation is Yu Darvish.
This is a brilliant decision on the part of Dave Roberts. He is a manager who is very in tune with the new analytics-driven game. He will always play the matchups, and this decision is proof.
This gives Rich Hill the best opportunity to succeed. If he is thrown into Colorado or Arizona where he has struggled, you are begging for a Rich Hill meltdown in the playoffs. This was the best decision to make, and Roberts was smart enough to realize it.