As I begin writing this post, the three most-searched names in the FanGraphs search bar are Jake Arrieta, Rich Hill, and Clayton Kershaw, or, the three greatest pitchers in baseball.
I kid. Mostly. Hill faced a righty-heavy Tigers lineup in Detroit last night and threw seven shutout innings while striking out eight, walking none, and allowing just four hits. It’s the kind of start that’s become commonplace for him since September of last year, and it’s the kind of start that, if commonplace, makes you one of the best pitchers in baseball. I don’t know if Rich Hill is actually one of the best pitchers in baseball. I don’t think he is, but that’s kind of what this is all about — Rich Hill is making us think now.
Last year, we saw the four starts, and they were amazing, and we reconsidered everything we knew about baseball, and then the playoffs happened, and the offseason happened, and six months went by, and it seemed like more than enough time for 36-year-old, injury-riddled, never-done-anything-remotely-like-this-before Rich Hill to lose everything he gained during those four starts in Boston. That’s the fear with any player who ends a season on a hot stretch, that whatever that hot player had in September will have worn off by next April. That fear felt especially appropriate in this particular scenario, given Hill’s history.
And then Spring Training happened, and Hill was awful. And then he was forced into an emergency Opening Day start when Sonny Gray fell ill, and Hill only lasted 2.2 innings. At that point, it was over. Hill was cooked. Whatever happened at the end of 2015 was a total fluke, a gift from above, and Rich Hill was back to being Rich Hill.
And then he rattled off another four-start stretch that rivaled 2015’s. Back to Rich Hill. Thirty-four strikeouts in in 23 innings, eight walks, five earned runs. Over Clayton Kershaw’s last nine starts, he has a 1.85 FIP, and over Hill’s nine starts during that same time period, Hill has the better strikeout rate, the better home-run rate, the better ground-ball rate, and the better ERA.
So I wanted to play a little game. Hill has been Kershaw’s equal since September of last year, but it’s not exactly a fair comparison, because Hill is (probably) pitching at the absolute peak of his career, and we’ve just compared him to a less-than-peak (but still amazing) Kershaw. To make a truly fair comparison, we need to go peak against peak. In the interest of full disclosure, I originally thought this might work with Kershaw, but then I looked at Kershaw’s best nine-starts stretches and realized how foolish I am. Kershaw isn’t a human. But Max Scherzer is a human! And also one of the best, I don’t know, five pitchers in baseball? Based on those two statements alone, he became our new subject. Let’s play a guessing game, pitting Scherzer’s career-best nine-start runs in particular statistical categories vs. Hill’s last nine starts. Click the .gif below each question to reveal the answer.
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