The news is a bit old now, but the Cardinals have given former Chicago Cub and Baltimore Oriole Rich Hill a minor-league contract that carries a non-roster invitation to their big-league training camp.
The general consensus is that Hill will compete with other internal options (Kyle McClellan, Jaime Garcia, Mitchell Boggs, P.J. Walters, maybe others) to fill the fifth slot in the starting rotation.
My initial reaction was that this was a great low-risk, potential high-reward move for GM John Mozeliak. After all, Hill’s 195 inning season good for 3.1 WAR in 2007 would wildly exceed the Cards’ expectations for that slot.
I allowed myself to think: “Self, Mo may have found another Jeff Suppan, or Braden Looper, or Joel Pineiro here.”
I set off in search of the stats supporting my idea so I could come back here and boast to you, the loyal readers (all three of you) about how great this Rich Hill kid was going to be for the Redbirds.
What I found was decidedly different, and I’m not sure why I expected otherwise.
Hill is coming off of both losing the plate in 2009 and then losing the remainder of his season to labrum surgery, when it was found there was a tear in his shoulder.
As such, I found comparisons with some very different names from Cardinal teams past.
I present these to you with very little comment, because it’s all in visual format – graphs. All enlarge to full size if you click on them.
(All graph images courtesy of the fabulous Fangraphs.)
Notice a trend for all three? Alright, ERA can be misleading, right? Onto the next graph.
Alright, I hit you with a couple of graphs there. They’re telling the same story. Walks are up, strikeouts per walk are down.
Not only are walks up, but hits as well. When they are finding the plate, it’s not fooling anyone.
Inflated WHIP isn’t a huge surprise, since these pitchers’ control is all over the place, but note that not only are walks up – but innings pitched are also down. Kind of a “duh” moment, but bears mentioning.
As a result of all these hits and walks, fewer runners are being stranded on the basepaths. Hard to win games when you can’t keep runners off base, and then can’t keep them on when they do reach.
It is important to give you a timeline with these graphs. Mulder had his (first) shoulder surgery in late 2006. Clement was in September of 2006. Hill’s was August 2009.
If you look at the graphs, trouble started prior to each pitcher’s surgery (in other words, the poor performance was a clear indication that something was wrong).
Post-surgery, Mulder was even worse in 2007 and 2008 (his 2008 numbers/graphs produce some anomalies because he only pitched 1 2/3 innings in three games). Clement has never fully recovered and has yet to pitch another inning in the bigs since 2006.
Where does that leave Hill? Control issues plagued his 2008 campaign with the Cubs and their minor league affiliates, prompting the trade to Baltimore, where he continued to struggle before finally learning of his shoulder injury.
I’m not saying he can’t make it back, nor am I saying the Cardinals shouldn’t have signed him. This is an admittedly small sample size, but undoubtedly one that hits very close to home for Cardinal fans.
Temper your expectations, hope for the best, and think of it this way: at least they’re not paying him $7 million.