Shawn Hill Worth the Risk?

A healthy Shawn Hill is a steal. It is no secret that the Nationals believe in Shawn Hill’s ability. That is the reason why they let a guy like Tim Redding go this off-season while taking a chance on Hill. Redding finished the year healthy, but didn’t finish the year strong statistically. At Redding’s salary of $1 million, the Nats felt they could do better economically.

Shawn Hill, 27, earned $402,000 in his third major league season. If he had been able to stay healthy in his first 3 years he would be looking at a lot more money. Hill finished 2008 with 12 starts in only 63.1 innings. The most starts he has made in a single season came in 2007 when he pitched 97.1 innings in 16 starts. He also posted a 3.42 ERA that year.

Hill is looking to start 25-30 games this year for the Nats if his right elbow allows him. Right now he is optimistic about his rehab, so the Nationals have reason to be optimistic too. Of course, there are still a lot of hurdles in front of Hill. First and foremost, he has to get healthy. Then, he has to compete for a spot on the Nationals opening day roster. If he makes the opening day roster, he will have to stay healthy for the endurance of the season. It is likely that manager Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire will gradually increase his workload. Finally, the most frequently overlooked aspect of recovering from a serious injury is the mental hurdle that Hill will face. Sometimes it takes a player longer to recover mentally from an injury than it does to recover physically. But if Hill can persevere through all these things he could be the best surprise of 2009 for the Nationals.

Taking a chance on Hill reminds me of the Nationals taking a chance on John Patterson who recently retired at only 30 years old after not being able to recover from a forearm injury in his throwing arm. The Nationals were so high on Patterson and his ability to be an ace that they took a risk on him by paying his salary in hopes that he would get better. Things didn’t work out for Patterson or the Nats for that matter, but it was a risk worth taking. Hill is the exact same way. The risk is minimal in comparison to the reward. Like Patterson, Hill has the ability to be an ace in Washington.

What makes Shawn Hill a risk worth taking for the Nationals? Its simple–A hard-dropping power sinker that has made pitchers like Kevin Brown, Derek Lowe, and Brandon Webb successful. Hill has the ability to dominate with this pitch, which eluded him much of the 2008 season during his struggles with injury. If he gets back to %100, NL hitters beware.

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