One Simple Fix for Rich Hill’s Pitch-Tipping

There’s been a tiny little surge of pitch-tipping content. Ben Harris identified credible evidence that Luis Severino was tipping some of his pitches. And Fabian Ardaya wrote about Ross Stripling tipping his pitches. Now, within the Stripling article, there’s also a brief point made about Rich Hill. Chase Utley is apparently a wizard at looking for pitch signals. Utley saw that Stripling was doing something, but Utley also saw that Hill was doing something. Being a good teammate, Utley let the pitchers know. Hill already folded in a quick fix. One you’re probably able to spot, and spot easily.

Here’s Hill throwing a pitch on September 22:

Here’s Hill throwing a pitch in his next start, on September 30:

And for good measure, here’s Hill throwing a pitch in his most recent start, on October 8:

Maybe you’ll need to watch a few times. Any pitcher’s delivery has a lot of moving parts. But, can you see what’s different? It changed between September 22 and September 30. In the clip from September 22, Hill keeps his hands around his chest. In the clip from September 30, Hill raises his hands above his head. That’s a clear alteration, and one that Hill brought with him into the playoffs. Which should tell you something, right away — the playoffs, of course, are important. Players want to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible. Hill decided the adjustment was worth it, even with the stakes getting higher. It’s not like he implemented some kind of total mechanical overhaul, but nevertheless, change is change.

What was Hill addressing? Perhaps it doesn’t matter anymore, since he’s already made a change. But these can make for fun investigations. We know that Hill was apparently tipping his pitches. At least, Utley believed that Hill was tipping his pitches, and Hill didn’t disagree. Hill basically throws fastballs and curveballs. He has different varieties of the curveball, but they’re all curveballs, each and every one. And the change that Hill made gives us a clue. By raising his hands above his head early in the delivery, Hill is no longer keeping his glove by his chest. That suggests there was something about the glove going on that caught Utley’s eye.

Here are my best guesses. This is subtle. I know this is subtle. But I’ve given it my best effort. Here’s a pseudo-front view, of Hill preparing to throw a fastball and a curveball:

The letters make for a useful reference point. On the left, the top of Hill’s glove is above the letters. The letters are completely obscured. On the right, you can see the tops of the G, the E, and the R. The glove is being held differently, then. Here’s a view from a more familiar camera angle:

On the left, the glove is a little bit higher. On the right, the glove is lower and seemingly closer. This might be easiest to look at with a comparative alternating screenshot set. So now, two images from a different start:

It’s so minor. I can’t adequately express just how minor it seems. Again, the glove with the fastball seems a little bit higher, and it’s at more of an angle, with the lower part further away from Hill’s chest. With the curveball, the glove seems tighter in, and for all I know that subconsciously gave Hill a feeling of greater security while he spun the ball around to a curveball grip. It seems like it is just ever so subtle, but Hill subsequently changed his delivery anyway. Maybe for him it was a really easy change to make, but Utley must have spooked him. Pitchers generally don’t want to have to tweak their deliveries in the final week of the season.

It’s obvious why a pitcher wouldn’t want to be tipping his pitches. The biggest part of pitching is trying to remain unpredictable, and if you stand on the mound and announce what you’re throwing, that gives the hitter a tremendous advantage. There’s a reason pitch-tipping always goes around as a theory when a good pitcher struggles. It’s intuitive. There has to be an explanation, and the explanation could be that the pitcher telegraphed all his pitches ahead of time. Now, the start before Hill made his change, he allowed just one run in seven innings. Granted, the start before that was worse. And the start after Hill made his change, he allowed zero runs in seven innings. Granted, it was against a dreadful lineup, and his playoff start against the Braves wasn’t great. Rich Hill isn’t fixed, as it were. He remains an imperfect pitcher. He’s just an imperfect pitcher who recently made a tweak. A tweak because a teammate of his observed that his glove was unwittingly sending a signal.

I’m of two minds when it comes to pitch-tipping. On one side, I think it’s a little too convenient. It can feel like a retroactive excuse, when the real problem was something else entirely. Many hitters might not even want to be looking for those pitch-tipping signs, because they happen mere moments before the pitch is released, and it can be hard to concentrate. A lot of hitters like to hit based on their own observations and memories and feelings. And sometimes the tip isn’t clear. You don’t want to be standing in the box overthinking how you don’t know what’s coming.

On the other side, players like Utley are good at picking up signals for a reason. If you give away even one pitch, that’s one pitch too many, and now that we’re into October, advance-scouting departments are working overtime, trying to look for any observable edge. Opponents are scouted more heavily during the playoffs than they are during the regular season, because there’s just more time, and you always know who you’re going to face. You can understand why Rich Hill wanted to nip this in the bud. Even though in doing so he ran the risk of thinking too much on the mound about the wrong things. As a pitcher, you don’t want to be thinking about what you’re doing with your hands. You want to be thinking about how the ball comes off your fingers. You want to be thinking about hitting your spots. Hill got one regular-season trial before the playoffs began. Suffice to say it went well.

Rich Hill, at least in theory, is no longer tipping his pitches. Or if he is still tipping his pitches, he’s doing it in a different way from how he was before. And maybe before, it wasn’t even that big of a deal. Hill finished with a better-than-average ERA, with better-than-average peripherals. Even the pitch-tipping Hill struck out better than a batter an inning. But when you get to the tournament, you want to be sure you have everything covered. Regardless of how Hill does tonight, it should be a function of what happens after pitch release, instead of what happens before it.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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3 years ago

One simple trick. Opposing batters hate him!

3 years ago
Reply to  Joser

#1 will shock you!

3 years ago
Reply to  Joser

You’ll never believe what Rich Hill just did!