Before he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for basically nothing -- before his 2008 season was squandered with horrible control and an inability to get out of the minor leagues -- Hill was a promising young lefty with seemingly limitless potential. At 27, his ERA and WHIP were better than league average, and he still seemed like a prospect. Hill still seemed to have room to improve.
Of course, that's not what happened. Hill went into a tailspin in his age-28 season, losing all his control and struggling even in the Cubs' farm system. The common perception was that Hill was having some sort of weird mental issue -- physical problems rarely explain that sort of utter loss of ability. Rich Hill was a mini-Rick Ankiel.
Hill disagrees. In his first interview since the trade, he told the Boston Globe his problems were physical, and that he feels much better now:
Do you feel you can find your control again? RH: "I've had a back injury for a long time and I'm finally healthy, so the answer is yes."
It had to be frustrating because it appeared you were on your way to being a pretty dominant lefty with great stuff, including the great curveball and a fastball that gets in there at 92-93. RH: "It's been incredibly frustrating. It just seems like I had all of my injuries all at once and there were little things. There were no tears or problems that required back surgery but just little things that messed with my delivery and my mechanics. I've also made some adjustments."
One of two things is happening here. Either Hill is sort of fibbing a little bit, trying to convince his new employers and fans through the press that he was a worthwhile risk, or the Cubs completely misread Hill's situation, misdiagnosed him horribly, and then traded him before they had a chance to get any value in return. If it's the first, whatever. That's mildly annoying, but not a high crime. If it's the latter, it's an utter waste of Hill's talent and awful bad baseball management.
The only solution here is time. If Hill is all better, he'll pitch well, and the Cubs will have screwed up. Until then, the burden of proof belongs to Rich.
Eamonn Brennan is a writer, editor and blogger hunkered down in Lincoln Park. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, FanHouse, MOUTHPIECE Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com.