The Return of Rich Hill
May 18, 2009 7 Comments
Orioles starter Rich Hill made his long-awaited return to the Major League mound on Saturday. Hill was last seen in the majors early last May when he was walking approximately everybody who came to the plate. OK, so maybe it was 20.2% of batters (8.24/9IP), but that’s still obviously unacceptable. This came as a surprise to everybody, as he had walked under 3 per 9 innings just one season before, and 3.53 per 9 in 2006.
There seemed to be two possible explanations. One line of thinking was that Hill had reverted to his pre-2006 walk-happy tendencies. In the minor leagues he had some problems throwing strikes, but seemed to solve them over time. The other theory was that he simply had contracted Steve Blass disease. So Hill was sent all the way down to the Arizona Rookie League at one point, but also spent time in the Single-A Florida State league, making 3 starts, and the Pacific Coast League (AAA), throwing 26 innings over 7 starts.
Regardless of where he went, though, he couldn’t find the plate, walking 28 in 26 innings in AAA, and 44 in 47.2 combined minor league innings. Rich Hill has had success so far this season after being traded to the Orioles and working in AAA. His control wasn’t spot on like it was in 2007 with the Cubs, but it was improving while he maintained his strong strikeout rate. When Hill returned to the major leagues on Saturday, he walked just two batters in 5.2 innings. So it would seem that Hill has improved somewhere. Usually, this is attributed to some kind of mechanical adjustment, either “staying closed,” or finding a consistent release point. I’ve been looking at his release points through pitch f/x to see if the latter is true. Take a look at the following two plots. One is his release point plot from his start on Saturday, the other is from his final MLB start in 2008 where he walked 4 batters in just two thirds of an inning.
The dots on graph on the bottom are pretty spread out compared to the graph on top. These are release points, remember, so it looks like his release point for that game was all over the place. That would seem to explain his control problems, right? Wrong. The graph on the bottom, which has the points plotted all over the place, is his game from this May 16th, in which he has just two walks and threw 61% of his pitches for strikes.
See how dense that plot looks around the center of his release point? There are a few outside the center of course, that will happen even with Greg Maddux pitching, but the vast majority fit inside a little 4×4 box in the center. He was extremely consistent that game and it obviously paid off with a dominant performance. I would be wary about picking him up in fantasy leagues until he shows improved consistency with his release points. And Orioles fans should reserve judgment for the time being–I’m just not sold that he’s back to being the very good and occasionally dominant Rich Hill that we saw two and three years ago.
Release point plots courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
Note: I put this up around 12:30 a.m. tonight (morning I guess). Within 90 minutes of me posting this, Harry Pavlidis of The Hardball Times (and Beyond the Box Score and Cubs f/x) posted an article with the same exact title. Great minds think alike. Harry focused on his stuff, while I focused on his control and release point. His article can be found here, I suggest reading that as well.