Prior to Rich Hill's start yesterday, I wrote about his release point issues that turned the 2015 stud into 2016 Spring Training dud. The results are in from Hill's second start, and boy are they encouraging. The lefty went 6 innings, striking out 10, while giving up a single run on a dinger to Chris Iannetta on a hanging curveball. Hill pitched like an absolute ace, and I'd dare say he wasn't all the way back. Let's look at his start yesterday.
As a reminder, here's where Hill released the ball in 2015:
And here's how where he released the ball on Opening Day, noticeably lower than in 2015.
Compared to his start yesterday.
It's not a huge change, but Hill's release point was slightly higher and the results were amazing. That elevated release point helped his control and movement. Here's how his pitches moved yesterday.
As a reminder, the X axis represent horizontal movement while the Y axis represent vertical movement. Pitches above the center line rise (compared to a pitch with no spin), pitches below it drop. Pitches to the left of the center line break away from left handed hitters, pitches to the right break towards them.
His curveball didn't have the consistency it did in 2015 and Hill threw a few hangers. But overall, it had similar movement to last season and made good hitters look downright foolish for most of his start. His fastball was consistent and excellent and both pitches induced silly swings and misses at remarkable rates - Mariner hitters whiffed on his fastball at a 13.95% clip and the curveball 18.52% of the time. Those numbers are pretty crazy - for reference, Clayton Kershaw's curveball has induced whiffs at a 13.87% rate in his career.
Here's a daring statement: this isn't even Hill's final form.
Yesterday, Hill basically abandoned his secondary pitches. Even at his best, he rarely uses them as in 2015, his four-seam fastball (48.39%) and his curveball (38.25%) accounted for nearly 80% of his total pitches. Yesterday that number jumped to 95% as Hill only threw five total pitches that weren't one of those two. He basically abandoned his slider, changeup, and two-seam fastball.
I have two reads on this.
First, Hill can get a lot better. His abandonment of three important pitches likely signals a lack of feel for them yesterday. He still dominated. Now imagine if he finds the handle on those offerings - all three were excellent for him last year and an ability to spot those will help play up his existing fastball/curveball combo even more.
On the opposite side of the coin, Hill's inability to use those pitches is a touch concerning. Existing as a two pitch starting pitcher isn't easy, even if those two pitches are some of the best in the game. Hill also has an injury history, and throwing his huge snapping curveball 54% of the time like he did Saturday probably isn't ideal. So, for multiple reasons, let's hope Hill can find the handle on the back of his repertoire.
Considering he went from awful to ace like in a single start, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect Hill to take another step forward soon. Either way, the lefty deserves a lot of credit for making the adjustment he needed so desperately.