Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Favorable Baseball Savant Statcast Comparisons

Mar 5, 2023; Bradenton, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Carlos Santana (41) bats in
Mar 5, 2023; Bradenton, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Carlos Santana (41) bats in / Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
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Rich Hill

Rich Hill was signed as a veteran anchor for the Pirate rotation going into this year. In 124.1 innings with the Boston Red Sox, the 43-year-old southpaw worked to a 4.27 ERA, 3.93 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP, which comes out to about league-average production. He had a 20.7% strikeout rate and 1.01 HR/9 but an outstanding 7% walk rate. Hill also had a decent June through October, posting a 4.01 ERA/3.59 FIP/3.78 xFIP.

Hill is the definition of a soft-tosser. He was in the bottom second percentile of fastball velocity at 88.5 MPH. But he still threw the pitch with well above-average vertical movement (16.4 IN) and horizontal movement (8.2 IN). Hill's curveball is still one of the best pitches in baseball, averaging out with a whopping 67.7 inches of drop and 17.8 inches of vertical break.

Though he only threw it around 71-72 MPH, he ranked top five in both average horizontal and vertical movement among all curveballs. His curveball was slow, but his slider was even slower at 69.2 MPH, but he still hit 56.5 inches of vertical break and 22.7 inches of horizontal run. Its speed didn't affect its effectiveness, as he still had a whiff rate above 30% (31.6%) and held opponents to a wOBA of just .280 with his slider.

Hill led the league in both slider horizontal and vertical movement. He used his cutter slightly more than his slider and almost exclusively against right-handed batters. It sat at 84.2 MPH with 29.6 inches of vertical drop and 1.9 inches of horizontal run. Finally, there's his changeup, which hit 82-83 MPH on the radar, with 33.3 inches of vertical/15.6 inches of horizontal movement. 

Hill is all about control and fines, and he makes it work, which is reflected in Baseball Savant's comparisons based on pitch velocity and movement. The first four comparisons come from the same player, that being Gio Gonzalez from 2016 through 2019. The former two-time All-Star pitched to the tune of a 3.82 ERA, 3.96 FIP, and 1.31 WHIP in that four-year stretch.

Gonzalez only struck out 21.6% of the opponents he faced in this time, with a 9.4% walk rate and 0.93 HR/9. However, he still had an above-average ERA (114 ERA+/89 ERA-) and FIP (93 FIP-). The fifth comparison is the late Tyler Skaggs in 2018. Skaggs was pretty solid that season, working to a 4.02 ERA (104 ERA+/95 ERA-), 3.62 FIP (85 FIP-), and 1.33 WHIP. He struck out more batters on average than either Gonzalez or Hill with a 24.2% strikeout rate, and also had a strong 7.5% walk rate. Plus, his 1.01 HR/9 was identical to Hill's 2022 rate.

Both velocity and movement already paint Hill in a positive light, but his batted ball data also give him a positive outlook. The first comp Savant has is 2018 Eduardo Rodriguez, who had a 3.82 ERA, 3.65 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP.

The second comparison is 2016 Brad Brach with a 2.05 ERA, 2.92 FIP, and 1.04 WHIP. This also happened to be the best year of Brach's career. The third comp is 2018, Amir Garrett, with a 4.29 ERA but 3.83 FIP and 1.29 WHIP. 2018 Ryan Tepera is the next player Savant compares batted ball profiles to who had a 3.62 ERA, 4.17 WHIP, and 1.22 WHIP. Finally, there's 2021 Griffin Canning with a 5.60 ERA, 5.48 FIP, and 1.49 WHIP.

Canning is by far the worst comparison Baseball Savant makes to Hill, but he is the only below-average one as well. Gonzalez, Skaggs, Rodriguez, Brach, Garrett, and Tepera all had at least an above-average ERA or above-average FIP. Few pitchers in Major League Baseball make an 87-88 MPH fastball and sub-70 MPH slider work, but Hill has found a way.