Saturday, August 13, 2011

Jeremy Hellickson's Quiet Season

Jeremy Hellickson was one of the most hyped young pitchers and he did nothing to dispel that last year after he was called up by the Tampa Bay Rays. He won his first three starts in spectacular fashion before the Rays shut him down and let him finish the year in relief. Despite his rather ineffective relief appearances, Baseball America still ranked him as the #11 prospect before the 2011 season. With all that noise, why has his season been so quiet?

It's not like Hellickson is having a bad season. He is 10-7 with a 3.05 ERA. He is averaging six and a half innings in his twenty starts. That's all good stuff, right? So why isn't his name still on everyone's lips? Perhaps part of the reason is that the Bay Rays have had a quiet season. Even after beating the Yankees last night, the Rays are still eight and a half games behind the wild card pace in what seems an impossible uphill battle. Whispers have been swirling that they may let Johnny Damon walk to a contender sometime soon.

But another reason may be that Hellickson isn't blowing hitters away like he did last season in his early starts. His K/9 this season is only 5.32 after recording a rate of 8.2 last year and over nine for his minor league career. Fangraphs gives him only 1.2 WAR despite his record and his twenty starts. For one, his K/BB ratio of 1.79 has to be a bit of a disappointment. And his BABIP is a minuscule .227 with a strand rate of 79.8 percent. Granted, part of that is because the Bay Rays can really field well. But still, it's heavy on the luck side.

Because of those facts, his FIP of 4.24 is +1.19 of his actual ERA. He's also given up fourteen homers and his walk rate is the highest in his professional career. Put all of that together and you've effectively dampened the buzz factor. But does that make Hellickson a disappointment?

Not from this corner it doesn't. Hellickson has been a solid starter for the Rays. Mike Mussina once said that if you win half your starts, you're a good pitcher. Hellickson has done that. He now has a .667 winning percentage for his career. He's only given up 6.9 hits per nine innings and features a WHIP of 1.138. Wouldn't most teams be thrilled with such a starter? Wouldn't it make sense to pitch more to contact when you have all those great fielders behind you?

Hellickson's starts have garnered an Average Game Score of 57 this season when 51 is the league average. Tonight he has a chance to shut down the Yankees and keep the Rays' slight hope alive. Hellickson's change up has become a very effective pitch in the major leagues and for his first full season, what's not to like? He's going to get even better as he learns more about his craft and matures. His season has been quiet and he isn't blowing hitters away. But he's been successful...even if nobody is noticing.

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