POTD Nick Hill, LHP

Real good article up on him at Lookout Landing.  I agree with all of Sullivan's stylistic remarks.

Hill has been the fave sleeper of MC/SSI posters this winter.  Here's SABRMatt's Dec. 31 writeup.  ... and I've got to admit, I'm very partial to the template Hill offers.


(1) First of all, any time a pitcher has a legit plus-plus straight change, he's got my attention.  You know how fast I jumped on Doogie Fister's bandwagon.

Ted Williams said that hitting is TIMING, and pitching is upsetting timing.  Too many pitchers allow the hitter to predict the velocity, while beating the hitter with location.  That's the hard way to do it.  Dr. Mike Marshall says that a pitcher gets hurt when the batter guesses velocity, not location.

I'm biased towards pitchers who hit the front and back of the strike zone, not the edges of it.  That fouls up hitters.  As Beane said once, "we get better swings off Pedro than off of Moyer."


(2) Second of all, coming from a LHP, the change is excitement-squared.  That's precisely the offspeed pitch a LH needs against the 80% righties that he faces.


(3) As well, a left-handed heavy fastball, 50% grounders, that is my kind of pitcher.  I grew up watching Tommy John and Randy Jones torture my Big Red Machine.

In 1975, Cincy's greatest year, Jones went 20-12, 2.24 with a contemptible Padres team -- throwing 75 mph.  I remember games like this one.  LOL.  Check out the names in that box score!

A hard-sinking groundball from a lefty can be a beautiful thing.  It's one two-bounce 5-3 after another.  As Casey would say, "the double plays ull kill yer."  Notice that Jones got two GIDP's from great RH's in the May 1975 Reds game above.


(4) I love the fact that he's in the Army, has gotten up at the break of dawn poppin' tall and all that jazz.  According to Ichiro, discipline is a good thing.


=== The Problemo ===

It's not a gravy train with biscuit wheels, ride along and sop.  Any ML pitcher with a minus fastball -- if that's what Hill's is -- is going to have to defy gravity.

Mark Beuhrle defies gravity with legitimately great command and a great change-speed game, as Jamie Moyer does.  That is asking a lot -- it's one thing to have command, and another thing to be a pub-quality dart thrower.  Nobody's accusing Hill of having Greg Maddux' command.

That's one reason I'm interested in Doug Fister, because despite his lousy velocity, he does have a plus-plus change and he may have plus-plus command.


But Tommy John threw 86 mph, and the ball sank so much that he simply groundballed his way to 500 wins.  It could very well be that a sky-high GB rate is all that Nick Hill would need, to combo off his change-speed game.  Bingo, 14 wins and a rookie-of-the-year run.

You can't make somebody something he's not.  If the question is, "how do you get him to miss more bats," the answer is probably, "you can't."  But he might not need to, in order to be a solid pitcher.


=== Synergy Dept. ===

When Bill James invented the concept of Pitcher Families, he did so in part so that he could identify which type of pitcher succeeds in which contexts.  Tommy John pitchers, like Hill, project to look terrible in Kansas City but great if you've got a playoff contender with good defense...

In general, SSI likes strikeout pitchers, and the more the merrier.  But Hill is the first M's pitcher we remember that is in the Tommy John template.  After Felix, Lee, and RRS, the next two guys in line for me would be Fister and Hill.


Dr D



First time to respond but have enjoyed your insights!  I know that stat-wise, Hill got banged up pretty good in the fall league.  How was his velocity, movement after a long season?
And you are right...Randy Jones and TJ were incredible to watch...pitching, even soft stuff can make big hitters like the Red Machine look very tame!  I teach HS pitchers and love it!


Doug Fister: 10.4 H, 0.8 HR, 6.6K, 2.2 BB
Nick Hill: 8.7 H, 0.7 HR, 8.5K, 2.8 BB
That's with a trip through High Desert where he had to keep the ball out of the zone because lazy flies become HRs there.  His other 120 innings at 2 stops are 2.3 BB/9, just like Fister.
He DOES have Fister's control, with better, more deceptive stuff.  I'm with you Doc - Hill's a real pitcher. Minus FB or not, he's a real pitcher.
This is also his last year of having to go spend the whole off-season working out with the Army and running up hills with a backpack and rifle instead of pitching.  His walks tend to be worst in the first month of the season because he hasn't had the same prep time that the other pitchers have had in the Spring.
But that's over, and from here out he should be able to just focus on baseball.  Beware the guy with the freak work ethic who is smarter than you and can throw a ball into a teacup.  Buehrle, Moyer and Maddux all have made long careers out of outworking and outsmarting the opposition.
Hill's a guy I think could do that as well.  I have him ranked higher than Cortes because he doesn't have a ten cent head.  And I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do at AAA or even in the Rotation.  I hope he doesn't get pidgeonholded as a lefty reliever - his change dies like Jamie's (tailing), which actually makes him more dangerous to righties.
Let the kid start and see if he can surprise.  Tho I don't think it would surprise a lot of us. *laughs* I've had a crush on Hill since we drafted him. We'll see if he can do what French and Fister so far haven't been able to.

Groundball/ LD %:
Hill: 56% / 14%
Pineda: 48% / 13%
Robles: 38% / 10%

The slow-baller definitely gets it done on the ground. Whether he can do it in the bigs is the question, but we won't know that til he gets up here.

Isn't Spring Training here yet?



We hope you can chime in as often as possible.  :- )
Wish that I knew more about how Hill looked as the season wore on...88 mph lefties are suspect in terms of their stamina...  the post above is nothing more than our noodlin's as to the LHP/groundball/straight change template...


Where do you put Hill's command as such?  60, 65, 70?
Yeah, this is the kind of guy that has me wanting to book a trip to AZ... :- )


No, last year it was 6.5% in High Desert (which is how he defeated the park) - it's 10 for his CAREER. :)  Nobody smokes a hit on Robles.  His HR/F is under 5%, and his IF/F is 21% (!).
Guys hit infield popups, cans-of-corn to the OF and weak tappers to short against him, but they can't drive the ball.
Robles is a lefty in the low-90s, which is like a righty in the mid-90s, and his curve makes announcers fall out of their seats and batters fall out of the box.  And he is in no way a finished product.
He'll be 21 in AA this year, having owned High Desert and the Cal League as well as any pitcher can.
His parks from here out only get more friendly for his pitching style.  Pineda, Robles, Hill and Cortes give us 4 really good shots at making hay at that #3 pitching slot, pushing #2 over the next couple of years.  None of them are gonna top Felix obviously, but we've still got some guys over the next couple of years who could be interesting arms to add to the big club with lots of potential.  We have a lack of depth behind them because we traded Lorin/Pribanic/Aumont/Adcock/etc, but we'll get another restock in the draft, plus guys like Cleto have barely pitched at all.  We'll see how we do patching that hole - letting Blandford start is a good thing, and the Ms have said they'll do that.
BTW, just to throw it out there:
Felix Hernandez has the 6th nastiest FB in the league 2007-2009, Morrow has the 12th...but League, the guy we traded Morrow for would have the 4th, per the comments section, if he didn't have a weird motion that makes him hard to categorize.
A rotation that starts with The King and Cliff Lee and some upside arms, a pen that has League and Kelley and Lowe and Aardsma, and a bunch of prospects either in AA now or hitting it this year (Robles, Pineda, Cortes, Fields, Hill, Orta, Paredes, et al)...There are a decided number of interesting arms on and around the Mariners right now. 
And we still have cash to add a Wash or a half-season of Bedard.
Very interesting.


And I see Hill as a 60 command now, pushing 70 as he matures.  I don't think he's topped out in any way and he breezed through AA like it was nothing to see hitters who could make contact with breaking balls and offspeed pitches.  As you know, AA is my standard proving ground for anyone with a non-plus fastball.  Getting 9k/9 in the Midwest League with a changeup is far different than doing it in AA.
Ask the scores of would-be Moyers who ran face-first into the wall that Hill just stepped over effortlessly.  He was 8th in the league in Ks while pitching 25-60 fewer innings than everyone ahead of him. He walked two more guys than Fields in 60+ more innings. If he qualified his ERA would be 3rd in the league.  The two guys better than him were Travis Wood (short, and so under-rated as only the 7th best prospect in the Reds system, 2nd best pitcher), and Ely just got traded to the Dodgers for Juan Pierre - and was ranked the 4th best White Sox prospect by THT.  If you leave Nick Hill off your Mariners top 10 you're fooling yourself, IMO, high 80s FB or not.  He's the best lefty of his type I've seen in a while (his ability to have a change and a FB that look EXACTLY the same is critical, and that slider is a nice offering too), and I think he can settle in as a solid #3.
And I think he's our 3rd best pitching prospect behind Pineda and Robles.  That's how much I like them. :)


.. his change is there already, as a GB guy, in principle there's nothing keeping him from pitching effectively at Safeco right away...
Much rather push a kid who has his game together, who throws strikes, than rush a guy who has lots of K's but who isn't sure where the ball's going...


Agreed.  I think he's at least able to hold his own, though I'm not against a AAA stopover first.
He's definitely my dark horse for the rotation.  I like the way he throws more than Fister or French or our other BOR options.  The Ms may send him to AAA just to let the other #5 guys fail first while he gets regular time throwing at the top of the Rainiers' rotation (instead of being skipped, etc at the back of the big club's).  Or if we sign Washburn, that would give us Felix/Lee/Wash/RRS/Snell as our de facto starting 5. 
But on his own merits, I like Hill in the rotation the way I liked Madritsch for it the year he got bounced to the farm instead, only to come back up and fire ~90 quality innings for us.
Wherever he is, I just want to see him keep getting better.  And if there's one guy I'm not worried about cracking under pressure, it's the West Point grad who studies his craft.

Taro's picture

I love the pitcher, I don't love the mechanics.
I'd keep him in the bullpen just to keep him healthy, but I guess I wouldn't mind trying him in the rotation either to see how many innings I can get out of him before his arm falls off. Keeping him in the bullpen is the best thing for Hill's career though, and I hope the Mariners go that route instead.


Thanks Jemanji!  Yes, I have coached competitive teams for several years but this year got asked to coach a HS JV team.  Surrounded by better people than myself thankfully.  A life-long Mariner fan.  I went to the second game in the Kingdom in the second row watching Nolan Ryan in his prime mow them down.  Now, sadly I seldom get to Mariner games getting busy with my own baseball and living in Colorado. 
I have really enjoyed your site and you evaluations are done in a rare classy manner. Thanks for your hard work!  Please keep it up…and if I see something this way I would love to share.  I enjoy it when the Rainers head to the Rocky Mountains to beat up on the Sky Sox!


Thanks!  Tell Cindy that is a wise choice!  He was a great athlete.  You saw the sad end...but amazing how his arm held up for so many pitches!

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