2016 Statistics: 110.1 IP, 2.12 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 37
Position: Starting Pitcher
Of all the names atop the free agent leaderboard, Rich Hill's is easily the most surprising. Less than two years ago, Hill was making starts for the Long Island Ducks, an Independent League team. Now, with Jeremy Hellickson having accepted the qualifying offer from the Phillies, Hill might become the highest paid starting pitcher of this year's free agent class.
Part of that stems from the relative dearth of starting pitching options on the market, just one season after stars like Zack Greinke, David Price, and Johnny Cueto signed huge deals. Yet much of Hill's status on the market is due to his great, and unlikely, performance.
Since returning to the majors in 2015 with the Red Sox, Hill can legitimately claim that he has been among the best pitchers in baseball. According to Baseball-Reference, Hill has been worth an astounding 5.7 WAR across 134 innings since his revival, which equates to a Kershaw-esque 8.5 WAR per 200 innings.
At this point in his career, Hill is clearly not a fire-baller, as the lefty sat at about 91 mph on his four-seamer in 2016 according to Brooks Baseball. However, his fastball displays tons of arm-side movement, which probably helped him post a fantastic 34.1% whiffs per swing rate with the pitch.
Still, Hill's curveball might be his best offering. Batters hit just .185 and slugged .248 against his curve, and nearly 58% of balls in play against the pitch went for ground balls.
Hill relies almost solely on his fastball and curve, throwing one of those two pitches nearly 94% of the time, and that combination of two elite pitches has been enough. Since 2015, Hill has struck out 30.3% of the batters he's faced, while walking 7.0%. Over that span, Hill has the best adjusted ERA among starters with as many innings. No matter how you splice it, when he has been on the field since 2015, Hill has been excellent.
Of course, age is a huge concern when it comes to Hill. At 37 years old, Hill's performance is liable to fall off a cliff at any moment. There's just very little precedent for a journeyman pitcher that makes a dominant return to the game at such a late stage of his career. It's impossible to know if the incredible strides Hill has made over the past two years will be swiftly undone by father time.
That is without even factoring in Hill's injury history. Hill was hounded by a blister on his hand this season, and while that isn't the type of chronic injury that should be particularly worrisome in the future, Hill did hit the disabled list early in 2016 due to a groin strain. Hill also underwent Tommy John surgery back in 2011, and generally just hasn't had a clean bill of health throughout his career.
Any deal Hill receives will be risky. The team that acquires him will know for certain there's a legitimate chance that Hill blows up and that they may as well have lit millions of dollars on fire. That is the reality for an old, injury-prone pitcher that suddenly starts playing like a superstar.
Yet the Yankees are in a position where risky, short-term deals aren't necessarily the worst idea. On paper, they have a solid roster that's still a year or two away from really flourishing. A high upside option like Hill, if he performs near his potential, could be the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle signing that helps put a decent team over the top. Of course, he could cost his next team in excess of $40 million if he falls apart, but given the Yankees' and the Steinbrenners’ financial muscle, perhaps that's a risk they should take.