What Makes Rich Hill A Successful Pitcher?

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Ian York takes a look at what makes the Dodgers’ Rich Hill a good pitcher. He’ll be facing the Astros Justin Verlander in Game 2 tonight.

Rich Hill’s story has been told ad nauseum (veteran journeyman; after 10 years, encouraged to use his curve as a primary pitch; turned into a very good pitcher who has fragility issues). In 2017, he only pitched 135 ⅔ regular-season innings (plus nine in the post-season so far) — his major-league high since he reacher 195 innings in 2007. His 3.32 ERA (126 ERA+) and 1.091 WHIP are third-best among the Dodgers starting pitchers, behind Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood.

What he throws. Hill basically throws two pitches, but each has several variants. His main pitches are a four-seam fastball (“FF”) and a curve (“CU”). Occasionally he throws his fastball a little slower, as a changeup (“CH”), or as a cutter (“FC”), or with less horizontal movement to be a two-seam fastball or sinker (“FT”), but all are rare, and blend in with his main fastball.

His curve also has rare variants. Occasionally he throws it a little faster, and with less movement; this could be a slider, but if so, it’s very slow for a slider. There’s also another cluster of curves that have very little vertical break. I didn’t give either of these a separate name, but they form distinct clusters.

 

 

 

 

His main curve is relatively slow (averaging 74.0 mph), but has extreme horizontal movement and more than average vertical movement. The charts below compare Hill’s curve (red dot) to those of other left-handed pitchers who threw at least 100 curves in 2017.

Hill’s fastball is also relatively slow, but has very good movement, especially vertically.

Pitch usage and trends. Almost 95% of Hill’s pitches are either his fastball (42.9%) or his curve (41.8%); the other pitches are barely afterthoughts. Left- and right-handed batters see a very similar repertoire. When Hill is ahead in the count, he is more likely to throw a curve (47.7% curve, 45.3% fastball); when behind, he is much more likely to use his fastball (67.4%).

Hill’s repertoire changed slightly over the course of the season. He started off with even more curves, but quickly went on the disabled list after three games (shown with the vertical blue line) with a blister on his pitching hand. One his return, he used his curve slightly less, and experimented with the cutter for a few games in June and July before abandoning it from August on. In his brief playoff appearances (four and five innings on Oct 7 and 15 respectively) he used his fastball more than usual.


Pitch value. Ignoring his rarer pitches because of their small sample size, Hill’s curve is slightly worse than league average in terms of total bases yielded per 100 pitches, although it is significantly better than average as far as throwing strikes is concerned. By comparison, his fastball is very effective, significantly better than average for both total bases and balls per 100 pitches. That may seem odd, since the curve is what Hill is best known for, but undoubtedly it is the curve that sets up the fastball and makes it so effective. (After all, the most effective fastball in baseball belongs to knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who is hardly renowned for his blazing speed.)

Pitch location. Hill doesn’t have very strong location tendencies, targeting most of the strike zone with both his fastball and his curve. To right-handed batters, his fastball is likely to be in the upper third of the strike zone, while his curve is more likely to be in the lower third. To left-handed batters, both pitches end up in similar locations — the outside bottom corner. However, the broad smear of contour lines show that Hill tends to use most of the strike zone, and (especially for his curve) also goes outside the zone.

Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork

Featured image courtesy of latimes.com

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