The Los Angeles Dodgers Signing Rich Hill Is a Tad Risky
A year and a half ago, Hill was a 35-year-old pitcher without a Major League job. He had just signed a deal with the Independent League Long Island Ducks to pitch for $500 a week. It appeared the sun had set on his big league career which, to that point, had been wholly unimpressive.
As ESPN's Buster Olney noted, by the end of last season, Hill had made $9 million total throughout his MLB career. While that's certainly more than most of us will make in our lifetime, it's not a lot for an MLB starter finishing up his career.
Fast forward to Monday, when the Dodgers re-signed their soon-to-be 37-year-old, midseason acquisition to a three-year, $48 million deal. Better late than never, right?
Hill went 12-5 in 20 starts last year for the Oakland Athletics and Dodgers, with a 2.12 ERA and a 2.39 FIP. He struck out 10.52 batters per nine innings and held opponents to minuscule .193 batting average. Only the great Clayton Kershaw had a lower batting average against among pitchers with 100-plus innings pitched.
He's essentially a two-pitch pitcher, featuring a low-90s fastball and one of the most devastating curveballs in the majors.
Re-signing Hill was clearly a priority for the Dodgers after he went 3-2 with a 1.86 ERA in six starts after their trade with the A's. However, there are reasons for concern over this deal for Los Angeles.
Hill is going to be 37 next year. Even though he's pitching the best baseball of his career, that doesn't tend to hold up as a hurler approaches 40. He also missed significant time in 2016 dealing with blisters on his pitching hand, something that is particularly difficult for a curveball specialist to deal with. He also spent time on the disabled list with Oakland due to a groin injury.
The Dodgers were so concerned about him holding up that he was famously pulled in the middle of a perfect game by manager Dave Roberts late in the season.
Finally, his 20 starts last year were the most he'd accumulated since starting 32 games for the Chicago Cubs in 2007. He proceeded to make five starts 2008, 13 in '09, then was used out of the bullpen exclusively from 2010-2014. He didn't become a starter again until reaching the Boston Red Sox in 2015, when he made just four starts.
So over the next three seasons, the Dodgers will be asking Hill to do something he's never done before - make 25-30 starts - in each of his age 37, 38 and 39 seasons.
As of now, Hill maintains his slot as L.A.'s No. 2 starter behind Kershaw and ahead of Rookie of the Year finalist Kenta Maeda, youngster Julio Urias and Scott Kazmir. The Dodgers are hoping Hill can stay on the mound a bit more and continue to dazzle National League hitters with that outstanding curveball.