What to do with Rich Hill?

Everyone wants a Carlos Correa. In dynasty leagues, twenty two-year-old superstars aren’t easy to come by. At the extreme other end of the spectrum sits Rich Hill, a soon to be 37-year-old starting pitcher. Yes, Hill is as injury prone as Wile E. Coyote. No, he hasn’t tossed enough innings to qualify for the ERA title since 2007. On the other hand, he has been really, really good. So what the hell should we do with Rich Hill?

At this point, everyone is more or less familiar with Hill’s comeback story. After failing to receive an offer from a major league team, Hill signed with the independent league Long Island Ducks in July 2015. Eleven innings and 21 strikeouts later, the Red Sox came calling with a minor league deal. By September 2015, Hill was back in the big leagues. He finished the season tossing 29 innings and striking out 36 batters with a 1.55 ERA and 0.66 WHIP.

Oakland scooped Hill up in the offseason, offering a one-year, “Prove It” deal for the southpaw. He proved it. In 110.3 innings (in Oakland and then in Los Angeles after the Dodgers dealt for Hill at the deadline), he struck out 129 hitters, en route to a tidy 2.12 ERA. In addition to posting spectacular strikeout totals for a starting pitcher, Hill also continued to develop his control, walking only 2.7 batters per nine innings, a number above league average. Hill post silly contact numbers in 2016, limiting the opposition to 6.3 hits (tied for second best with Jake Arrieta) per nine innings and a stingy 0.3 homers (best in baseball) per nine innings.

Still not convinced of how good Rich Hill was in 2016? His 2.12 ERA ranked second out of all pitchers with at least 100 innings. His 1.00 WHIP ranked fifth. Hill posted a 2.56 Deserved Run Average, good for fourth best in all of baseball, and his cFIP of 75 ranked sixth, ahead of nobodies such as Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. At this point, it’s pretty foolish to doubt Rich Hill’s skills.

That said, there are still valid questions about Hill moving forward. For one thing, saying Rich Hill might be injury prone would be akin to saying Justin Timberlake might be the most successful member of N’Sync (Bet you weren’t expecting boy band jokes in this here sports article, huh?). Hill has dealt with a litany of injuries in his career, including Tommy John Surgery in 2011. Most recently, he suffered from the World’s Most Vengeful Blister, which cost him much of the 2016 second half.

If you like your glasses half full, it’s good that Hill’s most recent bout of injury wasn’t elbow or shoulder related. However, we’re still dealing with a 36-year-old pitcher that before 2015 only topped 75 innings in a season once since 2007.

So that brings us back to square one. How should we value Hill moving forward?

In part, it’s hard to value Hill because he’s doing something that starters typically don’t do. He’s throwing is curveball more than his fastball. His fastball definitely won’t be mistaken for Randy Johnson’s heater, as Hill hovers around 90 MPH with his four-seamer. However that pitch appears to have a little more giddyup (technical term) when a hitter is sitting on the breaking ball. In 2016, Hill threw 900 curveballs, good for third most in the entire league. Jose Fernandez led the majors, throwing 984 curves, but did so with over 1,000 more pitches. Of Hill’s 900 offerings, 21.2 percent were called strikes, and 10.4 percent of the pitches drew whiffs. Add in 17 percent of Hill’s curves that were fouled off, and you’re looking at a pitch that was a strike 48.6 percent of the time. Of the 17.7 percent of pitches that were put in play against Hill’s curveball, batters hit .185 and slugged .248.

So we’ve established that Rich Hill is not your prototypical starter. Removing the names from the numbers, Hill would likely be a slam-dunk, top-tier starter. However those are not the circumstances surrounding Hill. Not too many dynasty owners are rushing out to pay a premium for an injury prone 37-year-old hurler. It probably goes without saying, but if you’re rebuilding, Rich Hill is probably not for you (unless you’re looking to flip him, which the A’s showed can bring back a useful return).

Even still, Hill’s skill set is exactly one that owners covet when making a push for a title. If you have a contending team in the hunt for 2017, now would be the time to see if you could pry Hill away. In real life, Hill is going to get paid. As the shining star of the 2016 free agent pitching class, he is going to benefit much more than his age and injury history would otherwise suggest. At this stage, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a team give Hill a three-year deal, which is probably matches his expected usefulness as a fantasy asset as well.

Since it will be hard to rely on Hill for a full starter’s workload, his fantasy value might be more similar to that of an ace reliever. According to BP’s Mike Gianella, Hill earned $22 ($14 in AL only and $8 in NL only) in 2016. This stacks up quite similarly to Andrew Miller ($24 in AL only) or Dellin Betances ($14). Miller is an especially close approximation, partly because he’s not a full time closer. Miller might pick up a save on occasion, but his value is mostly tied to rate stats and strikeouts. Similarly, it would be foolish to project wins for a starter (mostly because they’re unpredictable, fleeting, and stupid), but as long as Hill pitches he will produce solid ERA, WHIP, and strikeout totals, with a smattering of wins as well. By valuing Hill as an ace, non-closer reliever, you insulate yourself from paying ace prices while an ace return is still possible.

The bottom line: Rich Hill has been very good this season. Will it last? Who knows, but there’s enough uncertainty surrounding the lefty that you might be able to leverage it to create a good buying opportunity to keep your team’s window of contention open for the next couple years. Even so, as a wise man (and dangerous, mostly sociopathic, former science teacher turned meth cook) once said: Tread Lightly.

Follow Mark on Twitter @hoodieandtie

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Prospect 5-Pack

Prospects hounds can be a fickle bunch.  On Opening Day they’re gushing over a player they think can take a huge leap forward, but by the end of the year they’re looking to sell the same guy after a season of less than 500 at bats.  In all the commotion, sometimes players fall through the cracks.  All it takes is a couple of less-than-positive reviews for prospects to be cast aside and forgotten.  This week, I am looking at five possibly underrated or forgotten prospects that should be viewed owned in leagues where 150+ minor leaguers are rostered.
OF Derek Fisher, Astros
Derek Fisher has star potential, but with it comes with a perceived bust factor that keeps him low on many prospect lists.  Armed with all 5 tools at his disposal, he is one of the most under-appreciated potential stars around.  His defensive profile is also clouding his value, which isn’t a concern for fantasy purposes. Fish slashed .255/.367/.448 in 2016, a solid representation of his entire minor league career: solid approach, good slugging, and middling average.  There are concerns such as his strikeout rate jumping nearly 5 percentage points to 28.6% in 448 AA plate appearances, though it could have been a result of him adjusting to a new level. Fisher isn’t too far away either, and could reach the big leagues at some point late next season. He could be blocked from major playing time due to Houston’s recent signing of Josh Reddick, but if Fisher continues to produce in Triple-A next season, he should force the Astros’ hand.
OF Jorge Bonifacio, Royals
After 7 years and over 3000 at bats in the minors, Jorge Bonifacio is finally on the cusp of the major leagues, and with this rise through the minor league ranks has come an increase in his stock. Over the last couple years, Bonifacio’s plus raw power has begun to manifest itself in games, and if he can make enough contact, there’s a starting right fielder in this profile. Should the Royals struggle out of the gate next season, they could find themselves retooling and allowing youth, such as Bonifacio, to play.
3B Jeimer Candelario, Cubs
Not overly flashy or tooled up, Jeimer Candelario can be a high 2nd division 3B in time.  For now, he is buried on the Cubs depth chart and may need a trade to get a chance at playing time. Luckily for Candelario, there’s a good chance he’s traded, given his status as prime trade bait in a Cubs organization looking to win as much as they can right now. The calling card with Candelario is his eye at the pate, which has allowed for an impressive 12.5% walk rate and 16.3% strikeout rate since reaching AA.  Even though he does not have prototypical power, he can still impact a teams offense by reaching base so frequently. Candelario will need some more minor league seasoning, though, with only 735 upper level plate appearances, but could be a full-time regular in due time.
OF Aristides Aquino, Reds
Recently added to the Reds 40-man roster, Aristides Aquino had a mini breakout in 2016 on the strength of 23 HRs and a .519 SLG in the pitcher friendly Florida State League.  He had 61 XBH on the year and only struck out 19.8% of the time.  He was also recently anointed the FSL player of the year, an honor bestowed upon him by the FSL powers that be.  Plus raw power, plus running ability, and a plus throwing arm is enough to keep him on fantasy radars even if his probability of success is not entirely high at the moment.  Aquino’s ceiling is so high that even a marginal improvement in contact rate would go a long way in him becoming an above average regular.  While his average is never likely to top the .260 range, he could settle in as a 5 hole hitter in the majors with 20/20 upside while supplying solid right field defense to help keep his bat in the lineup.  On a Reds team reluctantly rebuilding, he is exactly the type of exiting young talent the team should be looking to develop.
OF Mitch Haniger, Mariners
This next one is cheating a little bit because of the Thanksgiving trade, but Mitch Haniger has been on my radar for some time now and it’s good to see him with a clearer path to playing time now that he is in Seattle.  The deal also gives me an excuse to talk about him.  Haniger was praised by his new GM as “high-ceiling prospect who projects to join our outfield as soon as next season.”  All GMs will speak highly of their own, especially ones acquired for the previous top player in their farm system, but in this case I agree wholeheartedly.  Once a supplemental first round pick of the Brewers, Haniger’s value has yet to catch up with the tools he flashes. With the lack of production in Seattle’s OF, he could play a big role from the start on a team in need of outfield help.  Haniger himself credits his production to a change in his swing mechanics which led to a .670 slugging percentage and 1.098 OPS in Triple A Reno.  Just as intriguing for me is his career minor league slash of .290/.370/.490.  His MLB debut was a mixed bag which included five homers and a .229 AVG.  At age 25 he is in his physical prime and poised to see a significant number of at bats in 2017.  I am buying in the hopes he can play CF when Leonys Martin sits versus tough lefties, and earn the lions share of a corner OF spot.

Digging For Diamonds: 2016-17 Post-Hype Catchers

It’s everybody’s favorite time of year! No, not the holidays, I’m talking about prospects list season! This is the beginning of a series on sleepers, breakout, and post-hype prospects, starting today with post-hype catchers. These are guys who may or may not have exceeded rookie status (130 Major League at-bats) but who aren’t valued perhaps as highly as they were in years past. Next week, we will be discussing sleepers, following with everybody’s favorite, breakout candidates. After that will come post-hype middle-infielders, sleeper infielders, etc. So here they are, without further adieu, your 2016-17 post-hype catchers: Continue reading

Looking At The Fantasy Implications of 2017 Free Agent Landing Spots, Part 2

Last week, I looked at the potential fantasy implications of a few different landing spots for some of the top Free Agent hitters on the market. This week I’ll be doing more of the same, just taking a look at another pair of Free Agents. If you haven’t read last weeks article, I recommend you do so here. I’ll break down what I believe to be the players three most likely landing spots, and analyze the potential pros and cons of the player landing there.

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Teens* Who Mow ‘Em Down: Five Young Pitching Prospects to Watch

Earlier this month, fellow TDG writer Matt Pullman highlighted five short-season hitters to watch who may still be flying under-the-radar in your dynasty league even after excellent 2016 campaigns. There are several equally exciting pitching prospects that are worth keeping track of as they perhaps make their full-season debuts next season, so it is important to stay on top of these guys and pick them up before your other league members do! Here are five pitching prospects who burst onto the scene in 2016 and could have exciting careers ahead of them.

*Not all of these guys are technical ‘teens,’ but I wanted to keep the theme going of young prospects who may be overlooked in your leagues right now.

Yadier Alvarez, rhp, Dodgers
Standing at 6-3, 175, this 21 year-old is the oldest prospect on this list is also the one with the most upside. Armed with a future 70-grade fastball that sits 96-99 early on and 94-97 later on in starts, Alvarez struck out almost 35% of Low-A hitters this season. Scouts note his “grace in the delivery and [his] overall athleticism” and project his current below-average command to improve enough to where it could even be slightly above-average in the future. In fact, he already showed signs of making the necessary adjustments in that area, as he cut his walk rate in half after being promoted from the Arizona League straight past the Pioneer and New York-Penn Leagues up to full-season ball in the Midwest League. His secondaries are currently a work-in-progress, but scouts project Alvarez to have an above-average slider and changeup and an average curveball to go with his nearly unhittable fastball that can touch 101. Sounds like all the ingredients of a frontline starter to me.

Thomas Szapucki, lhp, Mets
A 2015 5th-round draft pick, Szapucki looks to be next in a long line of exciting pitching prospects for the Mets. Unlike Alvarez, Szapucki has not yet reached full-season ball, but that can be more attributed to a back injury that ending his season prematurely. Scouts note some “red flags” in the delivery, so there is a greater chance that Szapucki could end up in the pen in the long run. Still, Szapucki can hit the mid-90s with his fastball and his curveball can show plus potential, so he definitely has the weapons needed to get batters out as he moves up the ladder. It will be interesting to see if his repertoire will remain as effective (86 Ks in 52 innings!) as it has been, and we also need to keep track of his health, but this is another arm worth getting excited about and one that your league-mates may not be too familiar with yet since he was not a big draft pick nor an international signing.

Sixto Sanchez, rhp, Phillies
Any time a pitcher throws for a 0.50 ERA in 11 starts, you have to start paying attention. The GCL Pitcher of the Year pounds the zone with a fastball that sits 92-96 and can touch 98 when needed. Standing at 6-1/200, Sanchez doesn’t have the same projection remaining that other 18 year-olds may possess, but not many 18 year-olds are already throwing 96 for strikes like Sanchez did consistently last year. Baseball America (subscription required) notes that his two secondaries both flash plus, and he is athletic and fields his position well. Sanchez sounds more advanced than fellow-Phil Franklyn Kilome was when he was 18, so he will be someone’s bandwagon you won’t want to miss.

Alvaro Seijas, rhp, Cardinals
A July 2-signee in 2015, Seijas does not have the same upside that the other pitchers on this list possess, but his feel for starting and three-pitch mix as a 17 year-old have fantasy owners excited nevertheless. His fastball already ranges anywhere from 91-95 mph and was not afraid to use both of his secondaries, best of which is a curveball with tight spin. He is very far away from the majors, but he also may have the best chance at remaining a starter out of anyone on this list.

Jose Albertos, rhp, Cubs
A total wild-card, Albertos threw all of 4 innings last year. However, he ranks in the Top Ten Cubs’ prospects on MLB Pipeline. It is hard to truly gauge the value of a player with so little experience, but he sounds like someone worth getting excited about. More of a wait-and-see type for 2017, but if your league rosters 300+ minor league players, he is not a bad lottery ticket to take a chance on.

Teens Who Rake Part II: Young Yankees

The New York Yankees made massive splashes this summer, acquiring multiple top-50 prospects and really filling out the top-end of their system. Even without those headline moves, their farm system was considered one of the deepest in baseball, due in large part to the five names on this list. They’ve handled all five aggressively this year, rolling out one of the youngest lineups in the Appalachian League (Advanced Rookie ball) on a daily basis. It’s worth noting that the average player in the league was over 21, and all these prospects are still teenagers. Depending on the depth of your league, there’s a chance all five of these guys were drafted in their respective classes, but there’s also a chance they aren’t even on your league’s radar. It’s one of the struggles of writing about deep dynasty prospects, because one league’s “deep” is another league’s kiddie pool. Regardless, these are some high-upside names worth keeping an eye on.

Estevan Florial, CF, New York Yankees
Despite turning 19 later this week, Florial has already played two games in the Florida State League (High-A). It’s interesting that the organization wanted him to see that level of baseball this early — where he was nearly five years younger than the average player — especially after he didn’t exactly flourish in the Appalachian League. He hit .225/.315/.364 in 60 games for the Pulaski Yankees, with an interesting double-digit walk rate, 7 home runs, and 10 steals on 12 attempts. Listed at 6-foot-1 / 185 pounds, the Haitian-native hits left-handed and throws right. He’s served primarily as a centerfielder, but he’s also spent time in right field. He also struck out nearly 30 percent this year, adding even more risk to the profile. All things considered, he’s young, the organization has challenged him mightily, and he’s shown an interesting blend of patience, power, and speed. If you’re looking for lottery tickets, there are worse gambles than Florial.

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You Must Trade For Robbie Ray Immediately

I am spending my offseason trying to buy Robbie Ray in as many leagues as I can. He is the most intriguing starting pitcher in baseball heading into the 2017 season in my opinion. I know he had an 8-15 record last year with a 4.90 ERA. He also has a 14-31 career record and 4.65 career ERA in 330 innings. Despite his poor track record I think he is a tremendous trade target in dynasty leagues right now. Let’s find out why… Continue reading