Rich Hill an unlikely surprise for Boston Red Sox rotation


Where did this come from? Not much was expected from Rich Hill when the Boston Red Sox inserted him into the starting rotation earlier this month, but the 35-year old journeyman has performed well beyond what the team could have ever hoped for.

When Hill made his season debut on September 13 in Tampa Bay it marked his first appearance in a big league game in nearly a year. If you blinked you may have missed Hill’s 2014 season, as he totaled a mere 5.1 innings over 16 uneventful appearances split between the Los Angeles Angeles and New York Yankees. All of those appearances came out of the bullpen, as Hill hadn’t started a game since 2009 prior to when he took the mound for the Red Sox a couple weeks ago.

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It’s a minuscule sample size, but Hill’s 1.17 ERA leads all major league pitchers with at least three starts this season. He has struck out 30 batters in only 23 innings, while issuing only a pair of free passes to give him an outstanding 15.00 K/BB ratio. Perhaps most impressive of all, in only 3 starts he has already produced a 1.3 WAR that ranks 4th among Red Sox pitchers this season.

Watching Hill carve up opposing hitters on the mound over these last three starts, you’d never guess that he hadn’t started a major league game in six years. Hill isn’t just the best pitcher in baseball this month, his brief tenure with the Red Sox this season is bordering on historically good.

Hill has only made three starts, but that was enough to join Chris Sale and Chris Archer as the only American League starters to record 10+ strikeouts in three straight games this season. Think that’s impressive? How about this one. The only Red Sox pitchers in the last 100 years to record double-digit strikeouts while walking no more than one batter in three straight starts are Hill and Pedro Martinez.

In his most recent appearance Friday night, Hill went the distance in shutting out the Baltimore Orioles. It was the first time a Red Sox starter had pitched a two-hit shutout with 10+ strikeouts since Hideo Nomo 1-hit the Toronto Blue Jays on May 25, 2001, per ESPN Stats & Information.

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There is a bit of a precedence for Hill performing well in a Red Sox uniform. He spent several brief stints in Boston as a reliever between 2010-2012, totaling 31.2 innings and giving up only 4 earned runs. He now has a 1.15 ERA over 54.2 career innings with the franchise. Maybe it’s something about pitching in Boston that brings out the best in Hill.

The Red Sox signed Hill to a minor league contract earlier this season, so they are getting this production at a bargain rate. The downside is that he’ll be a free agent after the season and this strong finish means he is setting himself up for a significant raise. Boston’s overhauled front office may be looking to shake up the rotation this winter, but when the dust settles it remains to be seen if there will be room for Hill on this staff.

Clearly it’s unreasonable to believe Hill can keep up anything close to this pace. While he had some modest success as a starter early in his career, nothing in the veteran’s resume would suggest that he would transform into a top of the rotation starter. It may end up being only a brief hot streak, but it’s been impressive nonetheless. Regardless of where he goes from here, it’s hard to find a better story this season than Hill’s out of nowhere rise to revitalize his career.