One Hill of a Decision

This post deserves to be read in tandem with my thoughts on the Joe Beimel signing, because in order to make room for the lefty reliever on their roster, the Nationals decided to part ways with starter Shawn Hill. My thoughts on the matter took a couple of detours, beginning with “Huh!?” before swinging a right turn down the road of “Oh, well he’s very injury prone,” eventually ending up right back at “Huh!?” See, if the team in question were the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Rays, Cubs, etc, releasing Hill in favor of a better option would be a feasible solution. After all, he has proven himself incapable thus far of remaining healthy, but this is the Nationals.

Upon learning of the move, Dave even remarked that he should move the Nats down to spot #31 on his organizational rankings… which doesn’t make sense because there are only 30 teams in the…. oh, now I get it!

Hill is 27 yrs old, throws a menacing sinker, sports a 1.75 career groundball to flyball ratio, and boasts a very solid 4.11 FIP. The issue of course is that these impressive numbers have only been seen in 37 starts over four seasons. Hill’s most impressive season came in 2007, when he made 16 starts with a 3.42 ERA, 4.03 FIP, and 2.60 K/BB. In half of a season the Canadian-born righty produced +1.5 wins. Extrapolate that sort of production, even with a bit of regression tossed in, and Hill’s season could have been worth just under +3 wins added, a very nice total.

With Hill out of the mix, the Nationals will turn to John Lannan and Scott Olsen to head their rotation; they will hope and pray that Daniel Cabrera finally harnesses his raw talent; and they will delegate fourth and fifth starter responsibilities between Jordan Zimmerman, Collin Balester (took two tries to get the correct “L” alignment), and Shairon Martis.

The Nationals unloaded injury-prone starter John Patterson last season, who then went onto retire. Whether Hill takes the same road is yet to be seen (sheesh, a lot of street/road metaphors here) but the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo better hope that one or more of Zimm/Balester/Martis pans out, especially given Hill’s self-assessment that his arm felt good after his most recent outing.

One interesting aspect of Hill to take note of is his screwy mechanics. I vividly recall former Phillies TV color commentator Larry Andersen remarking that Hill’s front foot plants itself way before his hand reaches his ear, meaning that the righty is basically throwing with all arm. Such a windup may lead to extra sink on the ball, as several scouts have remarked, but it also carries a high injury risk, as we have already seen. Shawn Hill deserves to be on a team somewhere as he is too talented to not be employed, but someone needs to tinker with his mechanics in order to keep him on the field.

Otherwise, Hill will be just another pitcher who showed spurts of brilliance but could not stay on the field to showcase his abilities.

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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I thought LA was still in the broadcast booth. Am I missing something?