Do Injuries Really Faze Rich Hill?
Image courtesy of © Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsHere’s the thing, Rich Hill is not your average 40-year-old. Not only does he have a laugh-inducing nickname, but this isn’t his first rodeo. Over the course of his whole career, he’s pitched north of 130 innings just three times (twice coming since 2017) and has been under 60 innings in nine of his 15 big league seasons. Obviously, durability is not his forte, but it’s made up for significantly in terms of ability.
Pitching 58.2 innings last season for the Dodgers, Hill tallied a 2.45 ERA (although he did have a 4.10 FIP) and 11.0 K/9. He’s pitched 53 career innings in the Postseason and owns a 3.06 ERA across that stretch. With the Twins angling for a World Series, his three appearances on the grandest stage should also come in handy.
So, there’s lot of great results when he’s on the mound, but how do you project a guy of his age coming off a surgery on his throwing elbow? He’s slowly moving through his throwing program, and he’s yet to progress time on a mound. Expected back sometime over the summer, there’s plenty of variables yet to play out. The track record can certainly give us some indications, however.
The last time Hill missed substantial time was in the 2015 season pitching for the Boston Red Sox. He made just four starts tallying 29 total innings before hitting the shelf. Returning in 2016 for the Oakland Athletics, he posted a 2.25 ERA across 17 starts (76.0 IP) with a 10.7 K/9 before being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers and putting up even better results.
From his time with the Red Sox all the way back to his debut in 2005, Hill accounted for exactly 500 innings. Rather than generating a total that healthy pitchers would reach in three seasons, Hill spanned a decade. Since shaking those substantial ailments Hill has average 109 innings per season and owns a 3.00 ERA across 83 games (82 starts).
Attempting to be predictive of the human body, especially from my seat, isn’t anything that I’ll tie a certainty to. What we can see is that Rich Hill has been through this process tirelessly, has performed at his highest-level post injury, and has dealt with similar elbow issues before.
Throwing his fastball an average of just 90.6 mph, Hill’s ability revolves around the spin he generates on the baseball. He avoids hard hit rates because the ball dances around the bats of opposing hitters. Baseball Savant illustrates a very pretty description of how he makes it work, and very few of those inputs are traditionally tied to significant arm stress.
In short, if there’s a type of pitcher that you’d bet on coming back from injury and dominating, Rich Hill is probably the poster child. He’s got very little tread wear on his arm, he’s been through this all before, and the way he attacks should be outside of the realm typically diminished by procedures. Sure, the Twins won’t have him out of the gate, but if he can through 70 innings down the stretch and in October at a level he’s proven accustomed to, this is as good of a get as anyone.
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