There were only 11 left-handed free agent starting pitchers available at the beginning of the offseason. Now, with that number almost sliced in half, is it finally time for the Brewers front office to make their first significant signing in free agency?
Before you ask, yes, Rich Hill is still playing. And not only is he playing, but he’s still a very quality arm with the numbers to back it up. Statistically speaking, he had the best 2020 season out of all the remaining left-handed free agent starting pitchers. We’ll get to the pitching stats later, but let’s talk about the one thing you’re probably worried about, his age.
The average age of remaining lefty starters is 35.5 years old so by no means is it a youthful group to choose from. Hill will turn 41 in March, but he’s been the most consistent of all despite his age climbing. He had the second-most innings pitched out of those remaining free agents last year at 38.1 and finished the year with a 2-2 record with a 3.03 ERA.
That ERA would come in at fourth-best amongst 2020 Brewers pitchers that logged at least 20 IP…even ahead of ace Brandon Woodruff.
Interestingly enough, the Brewers had the seventh-oldest roster in 2020 at an average age of 28.8 years old, according to statista.com. But here’s an intriguing addition to that stat – five out of the six teams that were older than Milwaukee last year made the playoffs. The correlation seems to be present when it comes to the average age of the team and success in some respect.
The Brewers could use a veteran presence in the starting rotation, and Rich Hill is about as veteran as it gets.
Hill is the second-oldest player in the entire MLB, coming behind Albert Pujols who is only a few months older. It’s key to have veteran guys in the locker room and you don’t get much more seasoned than Rich Hill.
One of the biggest keys to longevity in this business is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and nobody knows how to ensure continued success better than Hill. There is nothing flashy when it comes to his success for the better half of the last decade. He hasn’t had an ERA eclipse 4.00 in a season since 2013 because hitters struggle squaring up the ball when he’s on the rubber.
Rich Hill is the definition of a “pitch to contact” pitcher. He had the eighth-lowest whiff percentage in the entire league last season so you might wonder how he can be so productive if he barely ever gets a swing and miss. Here’s the answer: he’s elite when it comes to hard hit percentage. He ranked in the 88th percentile in that category and 77th percentile when it comes to exit velocity.
Place Rich Hill right before or right after Corbin Burnes in the rotation and wish the opposing hitters good luck (Burnes has one of the best whiff and strikeout percentages in the MLB).
He has six different pitches in his arsenal (and an eephus he last threw in 2016) but his 4-seam fastball and curveball make up for about 90% of his pitches. His fastball is one of the slowest in the MLB at an average of about 88 mph and his knee-buckling curveball has some of the best break in the business with a spin rate in the 87th percentile that clocks in around 73 mph.
By no means am I suggesting that soon-to-be 41 year old Rich Hill will be a Cy Young contender if he joins the Brewers this offseason. What I am suggesting though is that he could be a sneaky good addition that wouldn’t be too pricey for David Stearns as he made only $3MM last season with the Twins. Oh, and hitters only have a career .123 batting average against him while pitching in Milwaukee. A minuscule 9 total hits in 83 plate appearances.
It’s time for the former Cubs draftee to join the team on the other side of the I-94 rivalry.