Rich Hill and 50th Percentile Projections

It’s amazing what can happen in but two short years. Coming into the winter of 2008, Rich Hill looked like he could be the real deal. His 2007 season wasn’t stellar – his FIP was only 4.32 due to a high home run rate – but there were great signs, especially from a 27-year-old left-handed starting pitcher. Most notably, the 8.45 K/9, especially given Hill’s lack of electric stuff, had Cubs fans expecting great things for years to come.

Now, we know it just wasn’t meant to be. Hill’s 2008 was derailed after only five starts, after a terrible 18 walks in 19.2 innings resulted in a demotion to AAA. Once in Iowa, the struggles only continued, as Hill walked over a batter per inning there, as well. He got another chance in Baltimore based on the potential he showed in 2007, but again, Hill couldn’t find the strike zone, and walked 49 batters in 61 innings between Triple-A and the majors.

In 2010, the Cardinals are going to hope to strike gold with Hill, giving the lefty an invite to spring training. It seems like Hill could be productive – CHONE projects him to have a chance to be worth roughly 1 WAR and to compete for a job as the 5th starter. Hill certainly seems like the perfect non-roster invite candidate, as the risk here is minimal and the reward could be great.

We must remember, however, that the projections presented here are “50th percentile projections.” With Hill, it seems like we have two possibilities: either he finds the strike zone and returns to 2007 form, or he remains a walk machine and is a below replacement level player. When we see “9” in the RAR category for CHONE, that’s combining the possibility that we get the +31 player from 2007 and the possibility that he remains the below replacement (certainly, if you include his time in AAA Iowa) player from 2008 and 2009. We’re probably looking at a 20% chance of a 4.00 FIP and a 80% chance of a 5.00 FIP, leading to the roughly 4.80 FIP being projected by both CHONE and Marcel, or something along those lines.

With the price of the dice roll merely a non-guaranteed contract with an invite to spring training, St. Louis should be applauded for taking this chance. Given Hill’s constant problems, however, expectations must be tempered – any sort of major league results out of Hill in 2010 will be a bonus to a Cardinals team that is already favored to win the NL Central.

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