Tuesday, July 26, 2005

rich hill

with wood done for the year and perhaps career as a starter, cub fans will be consoled in some fashion or another by the insertion of rich hill into the cubs starting rotation for some part of the foreseeable future. this is a guy that may figure heavily in the cubs' plans, so it makes sense for them to take a long look with what remains of this season.

what to expect from the kid is hard to say, of course -- hill has featured a big curve and nice location to pile up 14 k's in his first 10.2 major-league innings. but the small sample size and the fact that he's an unknown may be helping him on both counts. so what more could we say about him? taking a look at his minor-league production might help contextualize his quality.

and it's not bad. hill's last three years:

how does this all stack up against other pitchers' records?

kerry wood, for example, posted sick numbers in hits/9, but showed nearly no control in the high minors and chalked up quite high whips and eras as a result. (as a testament to the potential usefulness of minor-league performance as a career predictor, look no further.) mark prior, on the other hand, showed a brilliant combination of better stuff (evidenced by a lower hits/9 and k/9) and better control (a lower walks/9 and hr/9) than hill in his mere 63 minor-league innings -- and that was reflected in prior's 2.26 career minor era. so we might say that hill will likely be quite a different pitcher from wood, and further is not nearly so talented as prior is.

zambrano is another story again -- but this seems a closer comparison to hill. zambrano's last two minor-league years:

as you can see, zambrano has always been less of a strikeout pitcher than prior or wood, relying more on his wonderful movement to keep the ball from being hit hard and his era reasonably low. although they didn't keep a home run tally for z in the minors, his major-league stats confirm the idea -- zambrano's notoriously hard to take deep. the counterpoint to great movement is periodic control trouble, and zambrano did walk over four per nine, although he has improved on this count somewhat at the big-league level, raising his game.

in some areas -- hits/9 and walks/9 particularly -- hill and a young zambrano seem quite similar. the difference is in their approach: where hill challenges hitters for the strikeout with his curve, z could rely on his exceptional movement and velocity to keep batters from hitting him hard even when he threw it down the middle. consequently, hill has been more susceptible to the long ball, and that will keep his era high until he learns to consistently locate low. and it may also mean that hill isn't as efficient as you'd like a starter to be, as he may react by nibbling around the corners to stay away from the home run with men on instead of relying on his stuff. in his first big-league start, taking 98 pitches to cover five complete, hill rather confirmed those suspicions in the fourth and fifth by getting quite a lot more deliberate and careful after being taken deep by pedro feliz.

all this makes hill and zambrano quite different pitchers, and it's difficult to make a really solid comparison. but the point is that the quality of hill's numbers in his last 250-odd minor league innings should be apparent by the comparison with z's late minor-league career. the only other pitcher i see in the cubs system beyond a-ball with similar potential that isn't having injury problems is reynel pinto, who really is cast in the zambrano mold. (bobby brownlie is just coming back from arm problems, and sean marshall has been sent to the dl for tests on his sore arm.) i really look forward to hill getting a chance to work for a couple months on the circuit, just to see if he can make the adjustment, keep the ball down and become a part of the 2006 rotation.

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