Over the past few seasons, Rich Hill has been one of the toughest veterans in the Dodgers starting rotation, grinding through injuries to pitch well for LA.
A current free agent and recent Dodger standout, Hill was named the 2019 Tony Conigliaro Award recipient. The award is given to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of Tony Conigliaro, by persevering through adversity over the course of a season. Conigliaro was an up-and-coming young outfielder with the Red Sox in the mid-’60s until he suffered a devastating eye injury after being hit by pitch.
Hill worked his way through five different injuries this season yet remained effective as ever. Despite such a litany of injuries and advancing age, Hill remained a very effective pitcher in 2019, albeit based on his work in a small sample size. The 39-year old amassed a 2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 72 strikeouts over 58.2 innings in 2019. Those numbers would normally be unheard of for a soft-tossing 15-year veteran, but Rich Hill is no ordinary pitcher.
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A power pitcher early in his career, Hill battled numerous injuries and control issues through his first 10 years in the league. To combat his loss of velocity and general ineffectiveness, he reinvented himself as a two-pitch pitcher. Hill found a sweet spot with his new unorthodox repertoire. He started throwing his devastating curveball nearly half the time, giving hitters the illusion that his fastball is thrown harder than it really is.
Hill’s one-two punch was particularly potent in 2019, evidenced by his elite strikeout percentage, opposing exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage. The signature curveball was once again the culprit, as Hill managed a staggering 7.4 inches of horizontal break more than the average MLB pitcher. It’s clear that Rich Hill could still get outs in 2019; he additionally brings with him veteran leadership and playoff experience. However, that won’t guarantee him a spot on the Dodger roster for 2020.
As previously mentioned Hill is not durable by any stretch of the imagination, as exemplified by his multiple injuries. He hasn’t reached the 150 inning mark since 2007. To complicate things further, Hill underwent elbow surgery in November. Barring setbacks, he should return around June, although Hill has been prone to hiccups while rehabbing and will need to be closely monitored.
Hill turns 40 years old during Spring Training, which doesn’t exactly bode well for his reliability and production. Thanks to his unique pitching style, Hill had his best seasons after age 35, but Father Time is undefeated when it comes to robbing players of their ability. Even if he returns to the mound on time, there will be no guarantee Hill will be his dominant self, despite his track record.
That being said, I think the Dodgers should definitely offer Hill a contract for 2020. Yes, he’ll miss half the season to rehab, and there’s no guarantee he’ll even pitch at all, but that’s a risk the Dodgers can afford to take, especially with rotation uncertainty following the departure of Hyun-Jin Ryu. With very few options left on the free-agent market, the Dodgers really don’t have many other options if they want to add elite innings to the rotation. Unless the team pulls off a deal for David Price or Mike Clevinger, Hill is LA’s best bet.
The Dodgers didn’t land any of the megastar free agents so far this offseason, so there shouldn’t be financial concerns with offering Hill a modest one-year deal. Hill has reportedly been in contact with the Dodgers and his hometown Boston Red Sox, and some other potential suitors will likely emerge. If Hill doesn’t end up returning to LA, he will end his Dodger career with a 30-16 record and 3.16 ERA over parts of four seasons, as well as three World Series starts.