A’s Sign Rich Hill, Because Of Course They Do

According to Jeff Passan, the A’s have signed left-handed pitcher Rich Hill to a one year, $6 million deal.

This morning, I ranked Hill at #4 on my Free Agent Bargains post, and wrote the following.

#4: Rich Hill, LHP
Crowd’s Estimate: 1 year, $6 million
Dave’s Estimate: 1 year, $7 million
2016 Steamer Projection: +2.5 WAR

Probably the hardest guy on the market to value, Hill went from a non-roster invite to a fascinating test case in extreme performance in small samples with his dominating September run for the Red Sox. His success came out of nowhere, and it would be irresponsible to expect those four starts to represent some kind of new level of ability that he reached at the age of 35, but at the same time, we also don’t want to entirely ignore the fact that he put together a 29 inning stretch of Kershawian performance.

Over that four start stretch, hitters made contact on only 75% of their swings at his pitches in the strike zone, which is the kind of number that tends to identify skill more quickly than a lot of others. He’s not going to sustain that number — Max Scherzer led all MLB starters at 79% last year — but given that his lack of a track record is going to keep the commitment short, I think it’s worth betting a decent amount of 2016 salary on the chance that there Hill’s crazy finish to 2015 suggests that he’s figured something out.

No one should expect ace-like performance, and you’re basically buying a lottery ticket, but we’ve seen enough Cliff Lee transformations to not entirely discount the idea that Hill could be a quality arm for the team that takes the risk. Maybe he won’t be able to stay healthy; maybe it will turn out to be a colossal fluke. But for the kind of dollars that get you a mediocre bench player with some clubhouse chemistry voodoo, I’d take a flyer on Hill and just see what I get. If there’s even a 20% chance he’s a quality starting pitcher next year, throwing $5 to $10 million his way is a worthwhile use of funds for a team that needs to buy upside on the cheap.

The A’s are the embodiment of a team that needs to buy upside on the cheap, and this is exactly the kind of risk that makes sense for a team in their position. This is similar — though even more risky — to the Scott Kazmir bet they made two years ago, and that turned out quite well for them; it’s not a huge surprise to see them go back to this well. Hill’s upside makes this kind of gamble worthwhile, even if there’s a pretty high likelihood that he doesn’t really give them much value next year. It’s probably best to look at Hill kind of like a prospect, with an absurdly high bust rate but also a chance of returning a lot of value if he pans out.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Keanu Kalawaia
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Keanu Kalawaia

But who is the A’s best offensive player at this point? Josh Reddick?

Mark Canha
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Mark Canha

Me.

Spa City
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Spa City

Probably Danny Valencia, who is better than many people give him credit for being.

A's Fanatic
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A's Fanatic

Depends, Billy Burns is a incredibly speedy and dependable leadoff hitter, especially for a rookie. In terms of power it’d be Canha, Reddick, and Valencia with Stephen Vogt being the offensive MVP For 2015.

Mac
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Mac

Fair point, but depth can also be a weapon. The A’s had two offense black holes last year: Eric Sogard and Sam Fuld. And Sogard was a bench bat before the Zobrist trade. The third worst regular by WRC+ was Brett Lawrie at a 94!

The A’s best hitter was only at 117 (Reddick). But the A’s have been built this way for years. They really do need that one power bat in the middle of lineup, but not have auto-outs in the lineup is also pretty potent.