Thursday, August 10, 2006

rich hill in context

at the risk of becoming monotone, this writer would devote just a bit more space to what is happening with rich hill as he makes a claim on a rotation spot for 2007.

in discussions regarding hill elsewhere on this site, this writer was forced to dig into the statistical backgrounds of many other pitchers in an effort to contextualize just what hill's minor league career output represents, and what it might tell us about his potential. it is no secret that this page considers hill very highly and has for some time. but even this writer underestimated what hill's career to date may represent when properly contextualized.

consider if you will this table of some of the great strikeout pitchers of the last forty years, sorted by strikeouts per nine innings. the names taken are of pitchers who have minor league data accessible at the baseball cube who have thrown one of the top 100 single-season strikeout totals (with the exception of mike scott, who was never really a strikeout pitcher excepting his one magical year, and the inclusion of kerry wood for the interest of cub fans).

pitchercareer minor league ipcareer strikeouts/9 ipcareer hits/9 ip
nolan ryan28713.85.7
rich hill45112.66.7
doc gooden36411.86.5
vida blue38911.76.3
kerry wood31711.15.5
roger clemens15210.56.1
bob veale8009.87.5
randy johnson4349.66.8
denny mclain4439.37.7
mickey lolich5709.18.0
sam mcdowell4838.96.6
steve carlton3068.86.7
fergie jenkins5468.87.3
pedro martinez5178.67.1
tom seaver2108.17.9
curt schilling8217.38.5
mario soto5606.77.4
john smoltz4166.58.3

the purpose of this table is not to prognosticate what lies in wait for hill. but it is to contextualize for readers just exactly how exceptional hill's minor league career has been and what a remarkable talent the 26-year-old possesses.

it has mystified this writer as canard after canard has been offered by ostensible cub fans to dismiss hill as a non-prospect. these are comments quite obviously made in ignorance of evidence and on the basis of a transitory first impression only. indeed, that too seems to have been the basis of many opinions regarding ronny cedeno as well -- and, given how that has turned out, the case has only been bolstered to put first impressions aside and examine statistical evidence in search of something more likely akin to truth.

though some would use his age to dismiss him, hill has not been in the minor leagues for long -- indeed, an examination of his draft class indicates that he is right on schedule for a college pitcher. his 451 innings is clearly not an abnormally long residency, and hill is in just his fourth full professional season -- an entirely typical residency for a college pitching prospect. this page would caution against using age as the sole metric for comparison of minor leaguers -- indeed, it is only in combination with professional service time that age can be a useful meter.

it seems here that the one valid criticism of hill is in the questionable control that he has often demonstrated in his earlier career. but this page can think of no better way to refute the liability of that record than to note that, since the beginning of the 2005 season, hill has marked off a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- clear evidence that he can pitch with remarkable control and overpowering stuff both when he has the mind to. his early major-league struggles notwithstanding, hill seems to be learning that he doesn't have to fiddle about trying to hit corners finely -- he can use a lively rising fastball and a curve that is frankly without peer in the cubs system (indeed, is one of the finest in the majors) to not only compete but dominate in pro ball.

let it be said here loudly: none of this is any guarantee of success. hill is not a god, and he will struggle at times. while his potential is clearly immense, there have been others for whom the same was true who did not amount to much.

but it seems to this page that cub fans and management alike should recognize by now that hill is the best pitching prospect the cubs have brought to the majors since mark prior, and stands head and shoulders over every other pitcher in the cub farm system today. this is a pitcher who should be given every opportunity to succeed at the major league level -- and we can only hope that the young man seizes it and makes it his own.

if he does, his potential is as great as any this writer has seen.

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