To Draft Or Not To Draft: Why Jeremy Hellickson Could Be Set For Failure In 2012

Jeremy Hellickson made a splash in his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Rays (2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), though you can take one of two stances as we head into his sophomore campaign:

  1. His 2011 success was based on a lot of luck and therefore he is going to regress mightily in 2012
  2. He underperformed in some areas (i.e. a 5.57 K/9) and therefore he should be in line to post similar numbers (even if they regress slightly overall)

So, the question is which side of the fence do you fall on?  For me, it’s the first option and there’s not much of a debate.  While you can argue that he should improve in the strikeout rate (he posted a 9.83 K/9 over his minor league career), I don’t think it will be enough to offset the other issues that could plague him.

Before we get into the problems, let’s take a look at the numbers he posted a year ago:

13 Wins
189.0 Innings
2.95 ERA
1.15 WHIP
117 Strikeouts (5.57 K/9)
72 Walks (3.43 BB/9)
.223 BABIP

The most glaring problem is that he enjoyed significant luck last season, something that is virtually impossible for him to repeat.  The first number is his BABIP, which was at .223 in 2011.  That was the best rate for any pitcher who qualified for the ERA title.  In fact, the second best was Justin Verlander, who had a .236 mark.  After that there was only three other pitchers who posted a mark of .250 or better. 

Since 2007 there have only been seven pitchers to post a BABIP below .240 and no pitcher has done it twice.  In fact, Hellickson is the only pitcher to have posted a mark better than .236 (you have to go back to Chris Young in 2006, when he posted a .226 BABIP over 179.1 innings, to find someone who came close).

Is there any doubt that the BABIP is going to rise, and potentially significantly?

The other luck metric that screams regression is his 82.0% strand rate.  The only pitcher to post a better mark in 2011 was Jered Weaver, who was at 82.6%.  There were only six players who were at 80% or better and 11 who were at 79% or better.

Again, the number was too lucky to expect him to repeat.

That’s not to say that Hellickson doesn’t have potential value.  You can’t write off what he accomplished in the tough AL East in 2011 and declare him a pitcher to avoid.  I would absolutely consider him a Top 50 starting pitcher and a solid option as a SP4 (maybe a SP3 depending on your format).  He brings the potential for strikeouts coupled with good control (which should lead to a good WHIP).

Unfortunately the luck was too favorable to think that he can come reasonably close to replicating his ERA.  It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him come close, if not surpass, a 4.00 ERA.

Just keep that in mind before depending on him in 2012.  He’s not being drafted significantly early (he’s currently the 37th pitcher coming off the board according to Mock Draft Central with an ADP of 128.83), but I would still have my reservations about drafting him.  I would much rather look at someone like Shaun Marcum, who is going around 20 picks later.

What about you?  What do you think of Hellickson for 2012?  Is he a pitcher you think will thrive?

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Make sure to check out all of our 2012 rankings:


  1. MJ says:

    I think Hellickson is the coverboy for LUCK magazine! He’s an okay pitcher who pitched in the hardest division in baseball. If he can come in with an ERA under 4.25 this season I would call it a HUGE success!

  2. RickTheRuler says:

    I have had Hellickson since his early days in the minors – 18 years and counting keepers league – and have long thought he was more a Maddux-type than his minor league numbers have suggested. I’ve still got faith that he will put together a 12-15 win season with an ERA ~3.35. While his K/BB rate will be over 2/1. He might have had quite a bit of luck, but lets not forget that luck follows some players like a shadow….

  3. Nick Tenaglia says:

    Between 2007-2010, there have been 19 Starting Pitchers to have ended a qualifying season with a BABIP of less than .260. (Fun Fact: Only 1 player has done it twice and that is Jeremy Guthrie in both ’08 and ’10) I wanted to look at the following season’s data to see how those same pitchers fared…

    Now its time to Geek out on stats:
    -Those 19 seasons average to a combined BABIP of .249. The following season, those players averaged a combined BABIP of .293
    -In season 1, the average ERA was 3.49. In season 2 the average ERA was 4.44
    -Season 1 average WHIP was 1.16 with the following season WHIP being 1.37

    Now just like with any dataset and statistical analysis you are going to see some outliers:
    -2008 Daisuke Matsuzaka had a BABIP/ERA/WHIP slash of .258/2.90/1.32 and hiw 2009 #’s were .380/5.76/1.87. He had the biggest and worst turnaround in stats.
    -2008 Scott Olsen had a triple slash of .258/4.20/1.31 with 2009 being .341/6.03/1.72. This was the 2nd worst year-to-year performance
    -2010 Matt Cain had numbers of .252/3.65/1.08 and 2011 numbers of .260/2.88/1.08. He had the smallest change in BABIP from year-to-year

    So by excluding the 3 worst BABIP difference and the 3 best BABIP differences, we can get a better, and more accurate, look at the data.

    Looking at 13 Pitchers:
    -Average BABIP went from .249 in season 1 to .288 in Season 2.
    -ERA went from 3.43 to 4.26
    -WHIP went from 1.16 to 1.35

    So in essence, you can expect Hellickson to increase his BABIP by 40 points, have his ERA jump up by .8 and his WHIP to grow by 19 points. In the absence of Wins and Strikeouts, that would take his numbers from elite to simply average.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      That is terrific data Nick, thanks! It just further hammers home the point that you should not overvalue Hellickson heading into his sophomore season.

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