Rich Hill will turn 42 years old next March, but the veteran southpaw told reporters last night that he “definitely” plans to pitch next season (Twitter link via Anthony DiComo of MLB.com). “The drive is still there and the ability is still there,” said Hill, who did not rule out a return to the Mets.
It’s hard to argue with the left-hander’s assessment. He’s not only wrapping up a 17th Major League season but is putting the finishing touches on a season that will see him shoulder his largest workload since way back in 2007. Hill has pitched in 32 games (31 starts) this season and racked up 158 2/3 innings of 3.86 ERA ball. He’s fanned 22.3 percent of his opponents against an 8.3 percent walk rate.
Hill isn’t inducing whiffs as often as he did with the Dodgers a few years ago, but he’s still inducing weak contact at rates well north of the league average. His 88.3 mph average exit velocity and 34.8 percent hard-hit rate are both strong marks, and those numbers actually improved following a midseason trade from the Rays to the Mets (87.2 mph exit velo, 32.3 percent hard-hit rate).
Pitching into his age-42 season would add another chapter to Hill’s remarkable comeback journey. The left-hander pitched just 75 2/3 innings in the Majors from 2010-14 and had become something of a journeyman reliever before parlaying a strong stint in indie ball into a dominant four-start run with the Red Sox late in 2015. Those four starts and 29 innings prompted the Athletics to sign Hill to a one-year, $6MM contract, and he continued his sudden dominance with the A’s before being traded to the Dodgers in a deal that netted Oakland right-hander Frankie Montas.
Hill spent the 2017-19 seasons in Los Angeles after signing a three-year, $48MM contract to return — a number that would’ve appeared unfathomable just a couple years prior. Even when he required elbow surgery in the 2019-20 offseason, he still drew plenty of interest and inked an incentive-laden, one-year deal with the Twins. He split the 2021 season between Tampa Bay and Queens, and he’ll now look to come back for an 18th big league campaign.
Since undergoing elbow surgery, Hill has seen his fastball velocity dip but has nevertheless remained effective. He’s pitched 197 1/3 innings dating back to Opening Day 2020 and logged a 3.69 ERA with a 22.2 percent strikeout rate, an 8.8 percent walk rate, a 36.2 percent ground-ball rate and 1.09 home runs per nine innings pitched. A team won’t sign Hill to be the ace of its staff, but he should have little difficulty finding another one-year deal to pitch in the middle of a rotation.