Pittsburgh Pirates: Looking at Rich Hill's Underrated Breaking Pitch

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Veteran starting pitcher Rich Hill has one of the most talked about curveballs in baseball, but his slider is a far less talked about pitch, despite it arguably being more effective

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed veteran southpaw Rich Hill to a one-year deal this past offseason. Hill is entering his age-43 campaign, and he's known for his big looping curveball. Hill thew his curve 36.5% of the time, nearly 1% more often than his four-seam fastball. This pitch in his arsenal has some of the most movement in all of baseball. He averaged out with 67.7 inches of vertical drop and 17.8 inches of horizontal movement, both of which ranked top five among pitchers with curveballs last season.

Despite the pitch only sitting around 70-72 MPH, batters had a hard time making good contact against it. Hill held opponents to just a .235 average, a .377 slugging percentage, .308 wOBA, and a 30% hard-hit rate/86.1 MPH exit velocity with his curveball. Although the curveball is Hill's biggest attraction, his slider is a lesser talked about breaking ball in his arsenal, despite being more effective.

Hill's slider had the most movement among all sliders in 2022. With 56.5 inches of vertical break, he was 4.3 inches ahead of Steve Cishek's breaking ball. He was also 4.1 inches ahead of Brooks Raley's slider regarding horizontal break, coming in at 22.7 inches of movement. Although his slider had the most movement, he also had the lowest velocity, coming in at 69.2 MPH. That was 2.9 MPH slower than Tyler Rogers' rising slider. The next lowest slider velocity by a pitcher who isn't a side-arm/submarine pitcher was Dallas Keuchel's breaking ball at 77 MPH.

Hill only used this pitch 10.2% of the time, 26.3% less often than his curveball. But despite its lower usage rate, opponents had an even harder time hitting the breaking offering. They managed just a .225 average, .352 slugging percentage, and a .280 wOBA. In terms of hard-hit rate, Hill gave up a hard-hit ball just 26.7% of the time with an 80.6 MPH exit velo. He also had a whiff rate of 31.6%, nearly 15% greater than with his curveball.

The soft-tossing southpaw's slider could be even better in 2023. Baseball Savant pins Hill's slider with an expected batting average of just .179, expected slugging percentage at .340, and expected wOBA at .239. Given he induced so much soft contact and got as many swings and misses as he did, it's possible his slider is his best pitch in 2023.

Hill is older and has seen his fastball usage steadily decline since 2018, when he peaked at 55.4%. He has started to use his breaking and off-speed offerings more often, and his 10.6% slider usage rate is his best since 2014 (a much smaller sample size of just 5.1 innings). He upped his slider rate from 6.9% in 2021 to just over 10% this past season. That's not to say that he should replace his four-seamer with his slider, but he could benefit from using it slightly more often. Hill has a sub-.300 wOBA with the pitch over the last two years, and if he continues that trend in 2023, his slider could be one of the lesser talked about breaking balls in the sport.