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Analyzing Injury-Prone Canadian Pitchers

Although their repertoires and approaches vary, Canadian hurlers Shawn Hill and Rich Harden share a common theme: their susceptibility to injury. Both players are also 27 years of age and both were selected in the 2000 draft – Hill in the sixth round and Harden in the 17th round.

Hill has never pitched more than 16 Major League games in one season thanks to his ongoing injury woes, which have included Tommy John surgery. In 206.1 career innings, the right-hander has a 4.93 ERA and has allowed 234 hits. In 2008, Hill never looked completely healthy for the Washington Nationals and he allowed 88 hits in 63.1 innings. He posted rates of 3.27 BB/9 and 5.54 K/9. Hill does a respectable job of keeping batted balls on the ground and he posted a HR/9 rate of 0.71 last season.

Hill averages right around 90 mph with his fastball and he has been fairly consistent with that pitch over the past three seasons. His curveball was thrown about three miles per hour harder in 2008 than in the previous two seasons, although his usage dropped about four percent – in part due to the emergence of a slider, which he used 5.5 percent of the time. Hill also uses a change-up just under seven percent of the time.

Harden, now with the Chicago Cubs, appeared in just 16 games between 2006 and 2007 thanks to numerous injuries to his arm and shoulder. When healthy, though, he has been dominating. He has a 3.23 career ERA in 612.2 innings. Harden, 27, has also allowed just 7.1 hits per nine innings during that span of time. Last season, he made 25 starts between Oakland and Chicago, which was his highest number of appearances at the Major League level since 2004.

Combined, Harden pitched 148 innings and allowed just 96 hits. He posted rates of 3.71 BB/9 and 11.01 K/9. The flyball pitcher did a nice job of keeping the ball in the park with a HR/9 rate of 0.67. Harden’s average fastball has lost about two miles per hour from where it sat in 2005. Perhaps in an effort to protect his arm, Harden has changed his repertoire and approach. He has all but eliminated his splitter in favor of his change-up, which he threw almost 30 percent of the time in 2008, compared to nine percent in 2005. Harden has also cut back on using his slider – which has regressed from a usage of 10.7 percent in 2005 to just under three percent in 2008.

Both players enter 2009 with question marks. Harden pitched the second highest number of Major League innings in his career, but he was absolutely dominating in both the American and National Leagues. He has the potential to be a top-tiered starter, but with a history of shoulder problems – including the rotator cuff – caution must be used when acquired him in a Fantasy draft. In other words, don’t overpay or spend too early of a pick on the hurler. Expect to get 120-140 above-average innings out of him, and be thankful for anything beyond that.

Hill, who missed significant time in 2008 with forearm tightness, had bone spurs removed from his elbow in September and is expected to be “healthy” when spring training rolls around. If the medical reports are indeed good as the regular season begins, he is a name you should remember in NL-only Fantasy Baseball Leagues. Hill has the potential to provide a number of quality starts, but his ceiling is significantly below that of Harden.