Pittsburgh Pirates: Rich Hill Expectations for 2023

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The Pittsburgh Pirates landed Rich Hill, signing him to a one-year $8 million deal. But what can we expect to see from the veteran southpaw?

The Pittsburgh Pirates recently signed Rich Hill to a one-year deal. Hill is coming off a solid season where he had a 4.27 ERA, 3.92 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP. Hill had a strong 7% walk rate and a respectable 1.09 HR/9 but a so-so 20.7% strikeout rate. Hill was about a league-average pitcher, so what can we expect from him going into 2023?

Hill’s expected FIP (xFIP) and skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) painted him in a similar light. The veteran southpaw registered a 4.13 xFIP and 4.12 SIERA. But on the positive side, he was in the 56th percentile of exit velocity and 79th percentile of hard-hit rate. Overall, that points to a slight improvement from 2022. 

One thing worth mentioning is that Hill didn’t get off to a great start to the year. At the end of May, he had a poor 4.85 ERA, 4.63 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. While he only had a 6.7% walk rate, his strikeout rate was below 18% at 17.5%, and he gave up home runs at a 1.38-per-9 pace. Even the underlying numbers didn’t like his work, as he had a 4.66 SIERA and 4.86 xFIP.

However, after the start of June, things started to click for the southpaw. Through his final 17 outings, Hill had a much improved 4.01 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.31 WHIP. Hill’s walk rate only increased to a still healthy 7.2% rate, but his strikeout rate sat at 22.2%. His K:BB ratio rose to over three, compared to just 2.64 in April/May. Plus, his home run rate dipped to just .95-per-9. His underlying statistics reflected his performance with a 3.93 SIERA and 3.78 xFIP. 

One knock I've seen on Hill is that he only averaged about 4.2 innings per start. But after the start of June, Hill averaged just over five innings per start. In those 17 starts, the left-hander racked up a total of 85.1 innings.

So what can Pittsburgh Pirates fans tune their expectations to? Hill, of course, won’t be an ace, but you could totally see a mid/high-3s ERA pitcher. Hill’s numbers through his final 17 outings are pretty reflective of the kind of pitcher he is. It’s also the first time since 2013 that Hill has posted an ERA above 4.00. 

Now sure, some might chalk that up to his advancing age. However, his expected numbers have actually gotten better. In the three years prior to 2022, Hill had a 4.34 SIERA and 4.44 xFIP, compared to the 4.13/4.12 marks he had this past year. Despite the mediocre reception, he had a 3.41 ERA from 2019-2021. Hill’s numbers after the start of summer also paint there is more left in the tank than meets the eye.

You also have to take into account his environment. Hill pitched half his games in Fenway, a park that gave up more runs, hits, extra-base hits, and home runs on average than PNC Park. He’s also getting moved to a much easier division. Each of the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles had an OPS+ of 97 or greater, and the worst team in the American League East still won 78 games.

Boston's division rivals made up over a third of the innings he pitched. Only the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers had a team OPS+ greater than 100. Not to mention that the Brewers lost Hunter Renfroe, and the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols. Hill also has a solid track record of pitching in National League Central stadiums.

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With that being said, I think it’s reasonable to expect Hill to work to an ERA in the 3.60-3.80 range. There are a handful of factors working in his favor next season. He’s in a more pitcher-friendly environment and is coming off a solid June-October. He could end up being a massive bargain for the Pirates.