Rich Hill was the Dodgers’ big splash at the trade deadline in 2016, and arguably the best starting arm dealt during the season in 2016. The Dodgers acquired Hill and Josh Reddick from the A’s on Aug. 1 in exchange for pitchers Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes.
What went right
When he was on the mound, Hill was one of the best pitchers in baseball, putting up a 2.12 ERA and 2.54 FIP in 20 starts on the season, including 1.83 ERA and 2.07 FIP in six regular season starts with the Dodgers.
On the season, among all pitchers in baseball with at least 100 innings, Clayton Kershaw ranked first with a 1.69 ERA, and Hill was second at 2.12.
Hill didn’t allow a single run in any of his first three starts with the Dodgers, totaling 19 innings. It was a scoreless streak he extended to 20 innings before finally giving up runs in his fourth start with the club.
With the Dodgers, Hill held opposing batters to hit just .182/.213/.248.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Hill is a delight to watch on the mound, both with his finishing leg kick reminiscent of Hong-Chih Kuo, and for his fiery tenacity, belying his relatively quiet nature off the field.
The left-hander had a 3.46 ERA in three postseason starts, including a shortened start with six strikeouts in 2⅔ innings in Game 5 of the NLDS. He struck out 19 in 13 playoff innings, including six whiffs in six scoreless innings in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs, giving the Dodgers their first NLCS series lead since 1988.
What went wrong
Just getting Hill on the mound was a chore for the Dodgers, who acquired him on Aug. 1 but didn’t see him throw a pitch until Aug. 24.
Lingering blister problems he brought from Oakland either sidelined Hill or caused the Dodgers to ease his workload, near the end of the season becoming more risk averse, wanting to make sure he was ready for the playoffs. Though it should be noted, that strategy did serve its stated purpose, as Hill was healthy and effective in the postseason.
Hill hung a curveball to Jose Lobaton in Game 2 of the NLDS for a three-run home run that turned the tide in the Nationals’ favor, though Hill was ultimately able to rebound from that as well. As I said, when on the mound Hill was great. It just would have been nice to see him pitch a little more often.
Stats: 1.83 ERA, 2.07 FIP in 6 starts, 39 K, 5 BB in 34⅓ IP, 1.0 rWAR, 1.3 fWAR
Salary: $6 million, of which the Dodgers were responsible for just over $2 million.
Game of the year
Hill’s excellent performance and the Dodgers’ careful handling of him came to a crossroads on Sept. 10 in Miami, when Hill retired the first 21 batters he faced, with a perfect game through seven innings against the Marlins.
But those weren’t just the first 21 batters he faced; they were the only 21 batters he faced on that night, becoming the only pitcher in MLB history to be pulled from a perfect game that deep into the contest.
Reliever Joe Blanton would allow a hit in the eighth inning, ending any chance at a combined perfect game or no-hitter. But the story was Hill getting pulled after just 89 pitches, in his third real start in two months, dealing with the aforementioned blister problems.
Manager Dave Roberts, who removed rookie Ross Stripling with a no-hitter going with one out in the eighth inning of his major league debut in April, came with the hook again this time for the veteran Hill, with the broader goal of keeping Hill healthy for October. Roberts after the game would say the decision left him sick to his stomach.
Hill is a free agent, and arguably the top starting pitcher on the market. Asked if he wanted to return to the Dodgers in 2017, Hill last week told SportsNet LA, “Absolutely. ... With the leadership that’s here — Clayton being the best pitcher in baseball — it’s something that you want to be around.”