The last time Rich Hill pitched a full season George W. Bush was the president, Barry Bonds broke the home run record, and Evan Longoria hadn’t yet reached the majors. To call Rich Hill a sleeper would be a miscategorization of his potential, he’s 37 years old and the baseball world is fully woken up on him. Hill’s injury woes have been well documented, and he frustrated fantasy owners last year with a blister that seemingly never healed, leaving a lot of people to proclaim that they won’t touch Hill under any circumstance, but passing on Hill’s upside completely is a dangerous game to play. He’s being taken as the 45th pitcher and 121st player per Fantasypros ADP, and his potential upside is worth the risk at that price. Don’t believe me? Think I’m crazy? Well let me explain.
Since returning to the majors in late 2015, Rich Hill’s FIP has been under 2.40 and his K/9 has been 10.68, which are essentially Noah Syndergaard’s 2016 numbers. Hill has transformed into one of baseball’s elite starters when healthy, his effectiveness only being topped by teammate Clayton Kershaw. Hill’s success has come from a change in his arm slot when delivering pitches, and significantly increasing the amount of curveballs thrown, in fact hill threw the most in the majors among pitchers that tossed at least 100 innings. Healthy Rich Hill is an ace, a top five starting pitcher, nine innings of Rich Hill is more valuable than nine innings of Corey Kluber or Jon Lester.
Rich Hill’s ADP is 121st, an eleventh round pick in a twelve team league. Other starters going around this price are Felix Hernandez, Michael Fulmer, Dallas Keuchel, and Matt Harvey. Other than Fulmer, these pitchers have serious injury concerns of their own, and based on recent performance only Harvey has the upside to touch Rich Hill’s numbers, and Matt Harvey’s injury involved invasive surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, including the removal of Harvey’s top rib, which make Rich Hill’s blister concerns seem tame by comparison. Regarding the other three, at the current stage of their respective careers, simply do not have the dominance ability that Rich Hill does on the mound.
The tenth or eleventh round is a tough area in the draft to analyze, it’s too late to get sure things, but too early to completely throw caution to the wind. The reason that Rich Hill is worth the risk is because his injuries are not devastating. Not to downplay the seriousness of blisters, but even at their worst this injury will not destroy Hill’s season entirely. Another pitcher with injury concerns, say David Price for example, could give you absolutely nothing, and what is that good for? Even with the mega blister and a groin strain Rich Hill gave us 110.1 top line innings, and the new 10 day DL increases Hill’s value. Hill can hit the DL for just one missed start and his owner can grab a waiver wire pitcher to fill in. Let’s say you need twelve starts from waivers to fill in for Rich Hill. If you were to take Rich Hill’s 2016 stats and add 72 major league average innings (12 six inning starts) you would wind up with a 3.09 ERA and a 9.59 K/9 over 170.1 innings. In other words, that roster spot would still be ace caliber, and the shallower the league is, the more beneficial this strategy becomes since above league average pitchers are easier to find on waivers.
Still not convinced? Well, where would you draft Stephen Strasburg, or Jacob DeGrom, or Carlos Carrasco? All three of these guys have struggled with persistent injuries throughout their careers, each having only pitched one season of 30+ starts, and yet their ADPs remain in the fifth round (Carrasco’s will certainly be dropping soon). If you’re willing to take a risk on a pitcher with top five upside, why bother chancing it on Strasburg when Hill has shown the same abilities over the last two seasons. Of course one is only 28 and not far removed from being the most touted pitching prospect in baseball, while the other is a 37 year-old that is less than two years removed from the independent leagues. I’m not arguing that Rich Hill is guaranteed to pitch even 100 innings or replicate his success over the last year and a month, but nobody in the draft has a greater risk/reward ratio in the draft than Rich Hill. If you’re spending your draft prep swooning over the hot young prospects, don’t forget that 37 year-olds can have upside too.
Please direct all questions, comments, and hate mail to @Elliott_TFR