The San Diego Padres acquired left-handed reliever Tim Hill from the Kansas City Royals last week.
In what was already one of the strongest, deepest bullpens in baseball, general manager A.J. Preller added to the Padres bullpen with the addition of Tim Hill. Some are skeptical of the deal as it cost San Diego one of their uber-talented, young outfielders Franchy Cordero as well as pitching prospect Ronald Bolaños.
However, after taking a more in-depth look at the arm the Friars received in return, it’s easy to why Preller pulled the trigger on this deal.
Let’s break it down.
Hill appeared in two seasons for the Royals prior to this season. He is under team control until after the 2024 campaign, giving the Padres five years of control of his services. The Friars have some lofty plans between now and 2024 and if Hill can continue to improve, he could become a vital part in the bullpen of the next playoff team in San Diego.
Though he is already 30 years old, Hill offers flexibility. If the Padres want to move on from Hill after a year or two, they can with little cost to them, besides the fact that they gave away to players with big upside to acquire him.
What makes Hill unique is his arm slot and repertoire of pitches. He is one of just a handful of relievers who throw sidearm. Being a lefty, this offers a unique challenge for left-handed batters facing Hill.
The former Palomar College pitcher offers three main pitches-a heavy sinker that can reach 90 mph, a four-seam fastball that touches 93 mph and the signature nasty slider, which flirts with 80 mph.
The sinker is his main pitch, which is heavy and tough to elevate. This is a handy pitch when trying to induce ground balls for double plays.
His 57.3 percent ground ball rate was 18th among relievers last season and it would have led the Padres’ bullpen. Besides the strikeout, a ground ball is the easiest way to get an out in today’s game of baseball.
Heavy sinkers often cause weak contact and Hill accomplished that routinely. Among hurlers with at least 30 innings pitched, Hill led the entire league in soft contact rate at 28.6 percent. Clearly, Preller wanted a pitcher who causes weak contact since no other Padres pitcher, starter or reliever, was in the top 50 in that category last year.
Though his fastball is not among the elite as far as velocity, its still an effective pitch based on his arm slot and good location, especially against lefties.
Look how he froze six-time All-Star and former MVP Joey Votto.
Hill specializes in getting lefties out, which will come in handy in the National League West, which features reigning MVP Cody Bellinger and All-Stars Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Daniel Murphy, and Charlie Blackmon.
Lefties hit .186 off of Hill in 2019 with a measly .465 OPS. His slider is most effective against lefties, due to the arm slot. It makes it tough for lefty hitters to get a good gauge on location and pitch type.
Though he will primarily face lefties, the reality is he will face a healthy dose of right-handers too, with the new three-batter rule coming into play in 2020. Righties did hit Hill better than southpaws, with a .236 average but on average, he struck out righties more often during the 2019 campaign. He posted a 7.6 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate against fellow lefties in 2019 but improved to 9.3 against right-handed bats.
Obviously, being a 30-year-old reliever who toiled through several years of minor league ball before breaking into the bigs at age 28, Hill is not perfect nor will he be an electrifying, All-Star arm. Though his numbers against righties were respectable last year, he still may be exposed if he faces an extended amount of right-handed batters, as they hit .276 against him in 2018.
His lack of elite velocity may lead to less swings and misses than some of his peers.
Typically, he does not strand many of his inherited runners on base. His 73.1 percent strand rate is outside of the top 100.
His arm slot combined with his heavy sinker, well-located fastball and sweeping slider, make Hill a formidable reliever for the Padres to use in key situations when facing a tough lefty or two. He will give Drew Pomeranz a run for his money as the toughest lefty out of the bullpen for San Diego this season.