The Washington Nationals and right-hander Shawn Hill had just about the most acrimonious off-season of any team/player combo. Hill, a sinker/slider hurler with a fair amount of talent (but also an unnerving propensity to end up in the trainer’s room or on the surgeon’s table), was eligible for arbitration.
The 27 year-old requested $775,000, while the Nats countered with $500K. Despite the relatively small divide, Washington decided to take its oft-injured starter to arbitration (the only other players reaching an arbitration hearing were Dioner Navarro and Dan Uggla). The Nats did what they do best, and lost the hearing. Hill was set to receive his $775K (in the arbitration process, either that player’s figure or the team’s figure is chosen; there’s no middle ground).
However, the Nats decided to release Hill recently instead of letting him compete in a dilapidated rotation that’s resting its fortune on Daniel Cabrera and Scott Olsen realizing that “hey, weren’t we supposed to be good or something?” Washington figures to save a very minimal amount of cash through Hill’s unceremonious boot: about $250K, once one considers termination pay as well as the money that will be spent on whomever occupies the roster spot.
If you need some War and Peace- sized reading material, take a look at Hill’s medical history:
Jul 1, 2006: Right elbow injury, 15-day DL (retroactive to June 29).
May 14, 2007: Elbow injury, 15-day DL.
Sep 24, 2007: Forearm injury, sidelined indefinitely.
Mar 20, 2008: Forearm injury, 15-day DL.
May 27, 2008: Missed 7 games (right elbow inflammation).
May 19, 2008: Right elbow inflammation, day-to-day.
Jun 26, 2008: Forearm injury, 15-day DL (retroactive to June 25th).
Okay, you get the point: Hill is the right-handed Mike Hampton, with the DNA of a Nomar Garciaparra/Nick Johnson love child. However, when Hill has taken the hill for the Expos/Nationals/glorified AAA affiliate, he’s been pretty effective. Equipped with an oft-utilized 90 MPH sinker (thrown 73.4% of the time; the pitch gets over 10 inches of movement in on the hands of righty batters), Hill has posted a career 4.11 FIP. He keeps the ball on the ground (50.1 GB%) while displaying adequate peripherals (5.67 K/9, 2.92 BB/9). Southpaws often get a good look at his offerings (.302/.355/.475 career), but same-side batters have generally been punchless (.271/.335/.394).
Inked to a minor-league deal by the Padres, Hill enters just about the best situation a starting pitcher could hope for. Petco Park is, of course, pitching Nirvana, suppressing runs by a full 20% over the past three seasons according to the Bill James Handbook.
In addition, the San Diego rotation is anything but settled. Jake Peavy headlines a cast of suspect characters, with Chris Young (whose extreme fly-balling ways are perfectly suited to the ballpark) and Mariners castoff Cha Seung Baek following. Former Giant Kevin Correia (5.10 FIP in 2008) and low-upside college arms Joshua B Geer and Wade Leblanc are other possibilities. Last we heard, Mark Prior is attempting to locate “The Island” from Lost, in hopes of time-jumping back to 2003.
The chances of Shawn Hill throwing a full complement of starts for the Padres are between slim and none, but he could provide some above league-average innings at a bargain-basement price. Hill is a zero-risk signing for the Padres, as well as fantasy owners. No one is going to spend a pick on a guy capable of injuring himself in the process of being activated from the DL, but he’s worth taking a look at if you find yourself in a pinch for pitching.