Rich Hill has re-signed with the Dodgers on a 3 year, $48 million dollar deal. Hill was traded to the Dodgers at the trade deadline, where he posted a 1.83 ERA, 2.07 FIP and 30.5% strikeout rate in a small sample of 6 starts.
Hill finished 69th overall in Yahoo 5x5 last year despite only making 20 starts and throwing only 110 innings. It’s a testament to how effective he was in those starts. Hill put together a 2.12 ERA, 2.39 FIP and strikeout rate just under 30%. He had the second best ERA among starting pitchers with at least 100 IP last year, behind only Clayton Kershaw, and the fourth best FIP.
Hill came out of nowhere in late 2015 but he’s been legitimately one of the best pitchers in baseball since returning to the big leagues. In 24 starts in his return, Hill has a 2.00 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 30% strikeout rate and OPS against of .525.
The fact that Hill only averages around 90 mph with his fastball and is basically a two pitch pitcher makes that even more perplexing. But Hill’s pitch mix is deceptive, and batters have a hard time differentiating his fastball and curve from each other. Hill’s fastball is sneaky quick despite the below average velocity, and the high spin rate on Hill’s curve adds to the deception. It’s roughly 2830 RPM, which ranks 7th highest among starters and is well above the average curve spin rate of 2470 RPM. A high spin rate on a curve helps add to the deception because batters have a more difficult time picking up the seams of the ball.
Hill’s deception has helped him become a monster at preventing batters from squaring him up. Via xStats.org, Hill’s Statcast derived exit velocity and batted ball angle expected slugging against last year was .300, the lowest in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 IP. The next closest was Jose Fernandez’s .311, and the MLB average is .417. Batters rarely make loud contact against Hill.
It’s possible that batters eventually figure Hill out as they see him more, but I’m buying him as a top 25 fantasy starter in 2017. I expect him to remain a strong run preventer because of how deceptive he is. Dodger Stadium is also a forgiving environment for pitchers, and even if hitters start to catch up to Hill’s repertoire, he’ll be in an environment that is difficult to hit home runs in.
The biggest issue with Hill is injury risk and durability. Fantasy owners probably shouldn’t expect more than 150 innings from Hill in 2017, and in reality should be prepared for him to throw less than that. The Dodgers have floated 120 innings as a low end number for what might be ahead. I expect those limited innings to be high quality with a strong strikeout rate, though, and Hill’s upside is worth the injury risk for me.