Out all the many excellent storylines that the 2016 Major League season produced, possibly the most unexpected came in the form of the emergence of Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Rich Hill. From the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball to the spotlight of the National League Championship Series in one season, what will the 2017 season bring for Hill?
Before the end of the 2015 season, Hill hadn’t started a game in over six years. So for the thirty-six year old lefty who had never won more than 11 games to go 12-5 with a 2.12 era was simply incredible. He is now set up right behind Clayton Kershaw in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup.
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The sudden and unexpected rise in Hill’s performance was explained through his time in the Red Sox system in 2015. Hill told the Los Angeles Times:
“While at triple-A Pawtucket, Hill met Brian Bannister, a former big-leaguer working as a scout and analyst. Bannister had studied the data on Hill’s arsenal, and discovered what Hill’s brothers had learned decades before: an uncanny ability to manipulate a baseball, with the curveball as his vehicle for using it.”
The article continues, “During an hour-long talk, Bannister lobbied Hill to use the curve as his primary pitch. He explained how Zack Greinke manipulated his changeup by varying the speed and the shape. Hill could do something similar.”
“It was like this ‘Ohhhh’ moment,” Hill said. “I was just fascinated, because it was a totally different way of looking at pitching than I was used to. But I had always wanted to hear that.”
The usage of the curveball as Hill’s dominant pitch paid off with his best season, and a new contract worth $48 million over 3 years.
Hill’s defining moment came in Game 3 of the NLCS when he stifled the Chicago Cubs potent lineup over six innings only surrendering 2 hits, and no runs. It was impressive to see as the Cubs were the team that Hill came into the big leagues with, and pitched with for parts of four seasons.
With his new contract and pressure associated with it, can Hill have a strong 2017?
All indications signal that it could be another banner season for him as he has discovered an effective main pitch. He also has stability with his new contact. The Dodgers became the eighth big league club that he had pitched for, and he now has the re-assurance in his abilities.
Hill also has the support around him with the Dodgers to help him be effective. The Dodgers have one of the best lineups in baseball, and are the favorite to win the NL West. They are also projected to win a league second-best 94 games according to Fangraphs.
After giving baseball another change in 2015, and the success in 2016, it will be interesting to see how the third act plays out for Hill this season.