Did Dave Roberts Pull Rich Hill Too Soon?

by Teegan Leader

"Keep an eye on me. I'm going to give it everything I have. Let's go hitter to hitter, and just keep an eye on me.” Those were Rich Hill’s words to Dave Roberts before going back out to pitch the 7th inning of last night’s Game 4. Entering the inning with a 4-0 lead and only 82 pitches thrown, by eye test he would appear to be good to go for the entirety of the 7th inning.

Hill was heading into the 3rd time through the Boston lineup, giving up only one hit through that point. It was a long half inning for him however, as the Dodgers put a 4 spot on the board in the bottom half of the 6th inning. After that long rest, Roberts listened to his starter and kept a close eye on him, which prompted a removal of Hill just two batters into the 7th inning. By that time, Hill’s pitch count was now up to 90 pitches with a man on and one out. The move even gained the attention of the President of the United States:

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Obviously, Roberts saw something in Rich Hill where he thought it was time to pull him, but was it the right move?

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In Nunez’s first at bat during the 2nd inning, Hill’s velocity on his fastball and curveball were averaging the same velocity and spin rates as they were in the 7th inning. The break on both pitches were actually moving horizontally more in the 7th inning than they were in the 2nd inning. Hill was showing no signs of actually being tired based on perspective pitch tunneling.

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Interestingly enough, during the 2018 regular season Hill’s spin rate increased as the game goes on but his average & perceived velocity all would decrease. A decline in velocity is expected as a pitcher throws more pitches throughout the game, but the batting average of balls in play is smaller on the third time through the order than the second time through the order for Hill. Exit velocities and launch angles increase all increase each time through the order, resulting in higher slugging percentages and more home runs. He gave up 4 home runs the first time through the order this season, but then it jumped to 9 the second time through the order, followed by 7 during the 3rd time. Batting average would fluctuate from .174 1st time through the order, .253 second time, and .241 the third time. OBP would follow a similar pattern, being .245 during the first time, increasing to .329 during the second time, and decreasing to .298 during the third time through the order. His home runs given up per 9 sits at 2.12 during the third time through, the highest of each time through lineups.

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His ground ball percentage is highest the third time in the order and fly ball rates are at the lowest. He also induces more ground balls per fly balls during the third time against the lineup than any other time.

Metrically he showed no sign of fatigue during Game 4 and despite advanced stats showing his average velocities decreasing throughout games during the regular season, that wasn’t the case last night as his velocity, as well as movement, stayed consistent. The night before, both bullpens were taxed during an 18-inning back-and-forth affair. The risks, analytics, and the results of the night’s prior game, all point to signs that Dave Roberts should’ve left Rich Hill in the game. Ultimately, he knows his pitcher better than anyone and it was his gut decision to make the change. Now with their backs against the wall, the Dodgers send arguably the best pitcher in the world to the mound, trying to keep their World Series hopes alive. Clayton Kershaw takes the mound tonight at 8:15ET on FOX.