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Rich Hill: Mishandled? Misunderstood? A genius? Bad back?

Richhill3_medium One of my favorite O's blogs is Weaver's Tantrum, which is a great blog name, by the way. Desert O posted a Rich Hill 2008 timeline yesterday that makes his season seem a little more peculiar than just the loss of control:

  • Apr. 19--Hill wins his first game. He is 1-0, 3.86 ERA but struggled with his control early in the game.
  • Apr. 26--Hill is still having control problems. Lou Piniella threatens Hill through the Chicago press with a move to the pen. Lou doesn't follow through, Hill continues to start.
  • May 3--Hill starts against the Cards. Again, he can't find the plate early, walking four in 2/3 of an inning. That night the Cubs option him to AAA Iowa. He started 5 major league games, going 19.2 innings, walking 18.
  • May16--Hill leaves a AAA game with a "stiff" back. Was his back bothering him earlier? Was he struggling because of it? Were his first inning problems caused by a stiff back? Impossible to say.
  • May 19--Hill goes on Iowa's DL with back "spasms."
  • June 6--Hill comes off the DL and walks seven his first time out.
  • June 18--The Chicago Trib says Hill and Matt Murton might be sent to Boston for Coco Crisp.
  • June 23--Jim Hendry publicly claims that Hill's problems are mental. The Cubs send Hill to Rookie League Mesa to work on his mechanics and mental approach. Hill's AAA numbers are 7 GS, 2-4 record, 26IP, 28BB, 5.88 ERA. Why would Hendry assume mental problems when Hill was on the DL less than three weeks earlier? Maybe to make Hill into more attractive trade bait?
  • July 2--Low point of the year. Hill walks three, hits one batter in 1/3 of an inning against rookie league players. Lou Piniella, who hasn't seen Hill pitch in two months, says his problems are mental and suggests Hill should be shut down for a mental break. How does Lou know? Why is Lou piling onto Hill through the press? The Cubs disregard Lou's advice and continue to play Hill. He gets two more starts at Mesa (3 starts, 9.1 IP, 5 BB, 1-1 record, 2.89 ERA) then gets sent to A+ Daytona.
  • Aug. 4--After three starts at Daytona, Hill goes on the DL again with a "back ailment." Sounds like his problems weren't mental after all. He was 1-2, 12.1 innings, 11 walks, 8.03 ERA there. Rumors say he is done for '08. Thank God.
  • Sept. 1--I'm a little fuzzy on this part, but Hill gets recalled to Chicago then goes straight to the DL with a "lower back strain." It sounds like an administrative move.
  • Oct. 15--For some idiot reason, Hill pitches in the Venezualan Winter League. I don't know whose idea that was, but after a couple decent starts Hill collapses again. Why didn't he rest his back all winter and pull himself together? Why didn't the Cubs make him rest? Were they hoping winter league success would make him easier to trade?

Read the rest of the post.

BTF's Transaction Oracle weighs in on the Hill pickup, too, and it's pretty much exactly my thoughts:

This is exactly the type of move the Orioles should be making. There are very good reasons to think that Rich Hill will be a terrible major league pitcher in 2009, but the Orioles rotation is made up of Jeremy Guthrie and terrible major league pitchers, so the consequences of Hill continuing to have serious command issues are relatively minimal for a team in Baltimore's position. If Hill doesn't rebound, let's say he throws 100 innings with an ERA of 7.00. Given that the alternative would be a player that will probably throw 100 innings with an ERA of 6.00, we're only talking about the loss of a win or so. The Orioles go from a 72-win team to a 71-win team. Whoop de doo.

But what if Hill does turn it around, which is at least a possibility? The team gets Hill for 4 years and if he does bounce all the way back, that's a ridiculous deal considering how small the risk is. Even if he only bounces back enough to be a 90 ERA+ pitcher, with an ERA around 5.00, he still is an upgrade over what the Orioles have.