Dodgers 2018 Season Grades: Rich Hill Never Sees a Valley in 2018
Sorry for the punny headline, but Hill’s extraordinary 2018 campaign for the Dodgers deserved something more than a run of the mill headline.
Hill fought off the critics and father time once again in 2018, going 11-5 with a 3.66 ERA in 132.2 innings. Hill’s 2018 was slightly worse than his 2017 on the surface, but his BB/9 did improve from 3.25 to 2.78 while mostly maintaining his strikeout ability, as he punched out 150 hitters this season compared to 166 in 2017.
At the beginning of the year, Hill was hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness. He finished the first half with just 55.1 innings pitched with a subpar 4.55 ERA and just 60 strikeouts.
But these poor numbers seem to have been at least partially caused by an above-average walk rate and bad luck in the BABIP department, with an 8.2% walk rate and a .306 BABIP. He was able to control these numbers in the second half, lowering his walk rate to 6.9% and his BABIP to .238, and this led to a stretch of dominance that extended into the playoffs.
In the second half Hill threw 77.1 innings of nearly ace-level baseball, with a minuscule 3.03 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts.
The story really isn’t one of two halves, but one of just two months. If you take out Hill’s poor 26.2 innings in March, April and May, he had a much better year than even just his second half numbers would suggest.
In his 108 innings pitched after May 31st, Hill pitched to a 2.33 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP with 125 strikeouts to just 28 walks. To put this in perspective, in 2018, Kenta Maeda threw 107.2 innings as a starter, with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP, with 127 strikeouts and 40 walks.
Even though his total regular season numbers were nothing special (he had the second-worst ERA and worst FIP among starters who started at least 15 games for the Dodgers) he shined for much of the season, and was even better in the postseason, especially in the World Series. Throwing 16.2 innings with a 2.16 ERA in the postseason, Hill was arguably the Dodgers’ best starter on an inning-per-inning basis during this time.
Though his playoff strikeout rate dipped greatly, from 13.15 and 12.23 K/9 in 2016 and 2017 down to 9.18 K/9 in 2018, he still was solid when it mattered.
After a poor performance in NLDS game four against the Braves (4.1 innings, 2 ER, 5 BBs, 3 SOs), Hill buckled down in game 4 of the NLCS against the Brewers, though he still threw just 5 innings, giving up just one run on three hits and six strikeouts. He then came in on just two days rest to pitch a scoreless inning of relief in game 6.
The crown jewel of his playoff career came in game 4 of the World Series. Hill threw 6.1 innings of one-hit baseball with seven strikeouts before being controversially lifted for Scott Alexander, who, in conjunction with Ryan Madson, promptly surrendered the lead, and consequently the likelihood of winning the Series. What could have been an all-time great World Series start then became a dark moment in Dodger history, despite his great start.
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Not everything was peaches and cream though for Hill in terms of what his outlook for 2019, a contract year, will be.
2018 marked the first season since Hill’s rejuvenation that he had a negative pitch value on multiple pitches, his slider (-1.3) and his oft-used curveball (-0.1). Perhaps most alarmingly, Hill’s fastball pitch value decreased from 12.9 in 2016 and 16.2 in 2017 down to 5.7 in 2018.
He also gave up more hard contact and had more balls pulled against him. In 2017, Hill allowed medium contact at a 49.1% clip and hard contact at a 30.2% clip. In 2018, these numbers flipped, as Hill allowed 42.8% hard contact and 37.1% medium contact. In a league context,
Hill also continued to allow more and more home runs. After giving up 0.62 and 0.33 home runs per nine innings in 2015 and 2016 respectively, Hill allowed 1.19 HR/9 in 2017 and 1.36 HR/9 in 2018.
After a two mile per hour downtick in average fastball velocity between 2016 and 2017, Hill did stabilize his average fastball velocity at 89.8 mph in 2018, and he used it more than he had in the previous two seasons while using his signature curveball less.
If Hill continues to allow more hard contact and more home runs, he will have to throw even more strikes and thus walk fewer batters if he wants to continue to put up good numbers on the mound. But that does not detract from a valuable and noteworthy full season for the pitcher playfully known as “D. Mountain”.