Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Most Interesting Man in Minnesota

Over the winter Twins fans clamored for starting pitching. After losing to the Yankees in the Postseason again, a constant bugaboo was deemed the source of weakness. Needing an ace, the Twins sought out some arms. Swinging a deal for Kenta Maeda was nice, but it may be Rich Hill that represents the haul.

Sure, he’s 40 years old but try telling Nelson Cruz that’s a milestone anyone should care about. The reality is that Hill has both been often hurt and often good. Good probably isn’t even a fair assessment, he’s been downright great. His 3.00 ERA dating back to 2016 is the 6th best mark in Major League Baseball. He’s coming off a season in which he posted an outstanding 2.45 ERA across 13 starts for the Dodgers, and he hasn’t had a year with less than double-digit strikeouts per nine innings since 2012.

In a world where velocity is king, Hill laughs at the notion. He flips his fastball up there at an average of 90.6 mph, and that’s not much of a decline considering the peak was 92.9 mph in 2012 with the Red Sox. He’s learned to live with what he has, and there’s very little surprise in how he’ll attack you.

Last season Hill utilized just two pitches. His four seem fastball was chosen 52% of the time while his big breaker was utilized at a 45.8% clip. The velo change on that curveball is staggering, dropping 15 mph all the way down to an average of 74.5. It’s not that those two types of pitches are anything special, but it is that when they derive from Hill’s hand, they’re nothing short of majestic.

Hill’s fastball spin ranks in the 91st percentile, but it’s the bender that gets the love here. The curveball has an average spin rate of 2919 RPM, or 4th best among pitchers that threw at least 300 of them a season ago. It’s in the 95th percentile across the league, and it’s why Hill’s hard-hit rate is an elite 98 percentile tally.


That curveball is a thing of beauty in and of itself. With a combined 12 inches of vertical and horizontal movement above league average, barreling it remains one of the league’s toughest tasks. It’s why a hitter can step in and know they have just two pitches to look for, but still be frozen on a meaty fastball right down the gut.

You might argue there’s nothing flashy about what Hill does on the mound, and that’s probably a fair assessment. There is a level of intrigue or a mystique feeling about how he competes, however. The stuff may lull you to sleep but being that dominant by going virtually against the grain is something we don’t see in baseball anymore.

Minnesota brought Hill in to bolster a rotation down the stretch. Now he’ll work right from the jump and could end up being the heart of it. When the dust settles, he’ll look to add onto his 53 Postseason innings, and those that add onto the 15 he’s pitched in the World Series could certainly culminate with a ring.

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