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The struggles of Rich Hill

So Orioles experiment Rich Hill needed 28 pitches to get out of the first inning and beaned two batters in today's intrasquad game in Fort Lauderdale. He said he was happy with his return from debilitating elbow soreness. But the performance certainly provides ammunition for those who believe Hill has lost his control ... permanently.

I liked the Hill acquisition. He's 29, left-handed and only two years removed from striking out 183 batters in 195 big league innings. Guys with that profile are not a dime a dozen, and he was available for a player to be named.

Why did Hill come so cheap? Because baseball executives are rightly afraid of pitchers who suddenly lose the ability to throw strikes. It's often a symptom of serious injury or worse, of a psychological malady. If you want to know how difficult the latter is, read Roger Angell's classic piece from the New Yorker about Steve Blass or look at Rick Ankiel, one of the most touted pitching prospects of recent times.

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Hill, of course, did not melt down on that scale. He simply walked 62 batters in 67 1/3 innings between the majors and minors last season. He says back pain, not psychological problems, caused his loss of control.

I looked to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system for some insight on Hill. I like PECOTA (devised by deadly accurate political guru Nate Silver) because its projections are based on the careers of similar players and because it spits out a range of possibilities.

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PECOTA is not optimistic about Rich Hill. His projected 5.46 ERA in 77 innings would've fit all too well in last year's disastrous Orioles rotation. The system sees him as similar to a bunch of pitchers who had a good season or two and were never heard from again. At least PECOTA offers some hope on the high end. Its 90th percentile projection suggests Hill could post a 4.04 ERA and strike out 74 in 92 innings.

I don't claim to have the answers on Hill. I hope he pitches well because I like good stories. But the sad truth is that most pitchers who go down this road don't find happy endings ... at least not on the mound.

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