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Dodgers: Rich Hill’s Sudden Decline is a Growing Concern



Rich hill has a problem, actually he has 2,3,4,5:
In his last start against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Hill managed to last just 4 innings. He gave up 5 ERs – including home runs to Owings, Murphy and the scorching hot AJ Pollock.  Based on his performance up to this point, the most surprising home run he allowed in those 4 innings was to Pollock – who by the way trails only Bryce Harper in home runs hit in the NL this year.
Why?  Because Rich Hill’s biggest problem through 4 starts is his inability to get the 2 – 5 hitters in the opposing lineup out. Pollock was hitting in the eighth spot. These hitters are batting an astounding .441 against him.  It shouldn’t take much to convince you that’s bad. For comparisons sake, Dodgers’ starters not named Rich are holding opposing 2 through 5 hitters to a .221 average. That’s nearly double what the rest of the starting crew has managed up to this point – a staff that has seemingly struggled to consistently get opposing hitters out at times.
So the natural question is “why has Rich been this bad at getting hitters out in this particular part of the order?” Especially for a guy who has historically thrived in high pressure, high leverage situations – see his career 2.65 Sept/Oct ERA and .186 OBA.  Considering last season he held all hitters to .200 average, his performance thus far is a stark contrast to his elite ability to get hitters out.  Granted he’s only had 4 starts this season – the sample size is small.
Still, there are some concerning trends underlying his inability to get good hitters out.  For one, thus far his usage of the fastball is trending up – consequently usage of the curveball is slightly down.  That would make sense, considering hitters batted an abysmal .184 against it in 2017.  Unfortunately, hitters are seeing the pitch far better this year and batting a healthy .340 against it.
In fact, hitters are seeing his fastball so well that they’ve nearly cut the whiff rate from last season in half, they are hitting 80% more line drives, and have cut his ground ball rate on the pitch from .28 to .15.  The logical next question would be: has his velocity decreased or has there been a notable change in spin rate for the pitch from this season to last.  The answer to both questions is a surprising and resounding no.

Back to the Basics:

The anchor in Hill’s arsenal since his reemergence in 2015, has been the curveball.  His ability to throw the pitch with elite spin rate, from different arm angles, and consistently for strikes when he’s both ahead or behind in the count has contributed to his ability to be a formidable number 2 behind Clayton Kershaw.  In seasons past, he’s led the league in curveball usage, using it to setup the success of his high 80’s fastball (in 2017 only Jacob deGrom had a higher 4 seam fastball whiff rate).

By all indications, in 2018 Hill’s curveball is still an elite pitch. Although the whiff rate on the pitch is below league average, he’s still inducing soft contact, and he’s actually improved on the ground ball rate from .46 to .50 per BIP.  He’s maintained the ability to consistently throw the pitch for a strike, and throw it in a variety of counts – keeping hitters off balance with the ~15 mph difference between the two pitches.

It’s very possible that scouting reports on Rich Hill have evolved with his increasing proclivity to use the fastball; perhaps hitters realize that the curveball is a pitch they are less likely elevate and hit hard – so instead they are waiting, seeing, and hitting his fastball better than they ever have.  If this is the case, Hill would benefit from increasing the usage of his mesmerizing curveball – and returning to the pitch that proved so valuable in his resurgence as an elite MLB pitcher.

Analysis:

Yes, it’s early in the season.  Yes, we should expect that Rich Hill improves his ability to get the 2 – 5 hitters out. After all, he has shown over the past two seasons with the Dodgers a knack for channeling his intensity in high leverage situations. Perhaps opposing hitters are seeing the benefit of better scouting. Working better counts, laying off curveballs, and as a result the fastball that has been amongst the most dominant in the game over the past two seasons has lost a bit of its bite.
Whatever the reason, the Dodgers will need Rich Hill to reestablish his dominance. Specifically his ability to get opposing hitters out and anchor the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw.  Especially if they expect to make a run into the post-season and beyond in 2018.

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Written by Isaac Castro

Born and raised in Southern California, his earliest Dodgers' memories are watching the games from his Grandmother's living room in Oxnard, CA and packing in on Friday nights with his family of 7 to Chavez Ravine. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Economics, and still resides in enemy territory. He plans on naming his first born after Chase Utley.

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  1. The entire pitching staff, save Walker Buehler, is not that impressive or much to fear. They are giving up a lot of homers and putting the team behind the 8 ball early. The offense is so anemic that once behind they have not shown the ability to come back. Chris Taylor and Bellinger are striking out way too much. The only consistent hitter is Matt Kemp and Roberts keeps moving him around. Bellinger at this point should not be hitting 4th.

  2. I believe you touched on when you mentioned the scouting report is out. It’s been pretty obvious when watching that the hitters lay off the curve ball much more then i the past. It also seems as if he’s throwing it less. My guess would be due to the blister concern. A bad recipe for a guy with an 87 mph fastball.

    • I think that this is the crux of the issue. If we look at statistics on his fastball from this year to last year (which was extremely effective pitch) virtually nothing has changed in terms of velocity, spin rate, strike percentage, etc. Hitter’s are sitting on the fastball, meanwhile he’s decided to throw more and more of them. Not a good combination.

  3. I will keep criticizing management – the “boy geniuses” – I label them sarcastically, for countless mistakes, especially in acquiring pitchers, since they took over. If you’re a Dodger fan, you can remember the list of failures – so many due to injuries, including Rich Hill, who was on the DL when acquired and then was given a 3 year, $48 million contract at the end of that season!
    Hill’s sudden decline, as the writer characterizes it, is more than a growing concern.
    It’s another nail in the coffin of the Dodgers 2018 season.

  4. A 38 year old pitcher. How is that a “sudden” decline. Only someone completely oblvious is shocked.

  5. I would like to know one thing: considering a $48M salary, what does that break down to per innings pitched? Hill rarely, if ever, can go six innings and many times it’s 2-3. Blisters are no longer an excuse. We got robbed in this deal.

    I agree with all said by the previous posts by Michael, Ryan, Jim, and Mike.

    • Hill is on a 3-year $48M deal, meaning an ACV of $16M. Last year he pitched a total of 135.2 innings. So the Dodger’s paid ~$118k per inning. For reference David Price has an ACV of $31M and pitched a total of 74.2 innings last year, which is ~$417k per inning. So it can be worse. Still, I think a better calculation is $/WAR rather than $/inning pitched. Obviously not all innings are created equal in terms of quality.

    • Hill didn’t really learn to “pitch” until he was 35 and now his 85 mph “fastball” is barely topping 80. Plus the fact every time he has a hangnail he goes back on the disabled list. I suppose Moe and Larry are scouring the waiver wire looking for more almost deceased starters. From Bellinger being exposed because he can’t hit an off-speed breaking ball to Chris Taylor being back to the pre 2017 Chris things are just not breaking right. From one win to winning the World Series to being on a par with the Giants, Padres and Marlins, pretty damn pathetic.

  6. sudden decline? lifetime era over 4-13 years and 700 innings pitched- ryu was damaged goods when we signed him and he has lived up to it-Maeda and stripling are not starters-we have a lot of rich hills on the staff

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