Sell High Starter: Why Fantasy Owners Should Look To Move Jeremy Hellickson & Johnny Cueto

We all love to see our players thriving, but does that mean we shouldn’t consider selling them while their value is at it’s peak?  Let’s take a look at two starting pitchers who have been tremendous in April, but could be in store for a major regression as the season progresses:

Jeremy Hellickson – Tampa Bay Rays
My concerns surrounding Hellickson have been no secret.  I have been putting out warnings since the calendar turned from 2011 to 2012, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I am going to be putting out another one now.  Of course, his early season success would make you think that he’s pitching lights out baseball, as he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA.  As you dig a little deeper, however, you realize that a regression may not be far off.

For Hellickson to be able to replicate last season’s success he needed to improve his strikeout rate (5.57 K/9 in ’11).  Unfortunately, he has actually seen that number fall thus far in 2012, posting a 4.97 K/9.  Unless he can get that number up towards his minor league career numbers (9.83 K/9), things are going to snowball before you know it.

The fact of the matter is, how long can his luck really continue?  Over his first four starts he has posted a .218 BABIP and 87.6% strand rate (he was at .223 and 82.0% in 2011).  Those are just numbers that are nearly impossible for him to maintain, meaning the ERA is going to stumble.

He’s already struggled a bit with his WHIP (1.33), but that’s because his control hasn’t been there (4.26 BB/9).  He should improve there, when the BABIP turns it won’t matter.  His current WHIP could easily settle in as a realistic number.

We all know that Hellickson has name appeal and is coming off an impressive (yet lucky) season.  The fact that he’s posted good numbers in April just adds fuel to the fire.  Sooner or later the luck is going to turn and the bottom should drop out of his numbers.  You will want to cut bait before that happens, and now is the perfect time to do so.  His value may never get higher, especially in 2012.

Johnny Cueto – Cincinnati Reds
We have all learned by now that Cueto isn’t the strikeout pitcher he once appeared to be (he’s posted a K/9 below 7.0 since 2009).  In other words, seeing him with a 6.12 mark thus far this season should not be surprising to anyone.

However, there are three areas that he easily could regress:

  • Control – Thus far he has a 1.95 BB/9, despite a 2.99 mark for his career
  • BABIP – He’s currently posting a .255 mark and, while he was at .249 last season, he had been at .290+ every year before that
  • Strand Rate – Does anyone really believe in his 91.2% mark

Considering he could (and should) regress in all three of these areas, there is no questioning that his current 1.39 ERA and 1.09 WHIP are going to plummet in time.  His name value alone will get people interested and, with his start, you can extract top dollar from an opposing owner.

I wouldn’t say that he’s going to be an unusable option going forward, because he should be a good starting pitcher this season, but he’s not close to this good.  Get the top value while you can.


  1. OlderiesButGoodSoFaries says:

    What do you think of Arroyo and Westbrook maintaining their current paces?

  2. Sawyer says:

    I just traded Hellboy for Delmon Young. The day after the trade when was all the mess with Delmon went down (ouch). Still, I don’t regret the trade. Hellboy was expensive and I think is due for a major course correction soon. I’m actually hoping the Delmon event turns out to be a positive for him, spurring him from mediocrity to renewed focus and dedication.

  3. muddy cleats 18 says:

    getting a lot of trade requests for Chapman. does he have a chance to start this year? if so I think I need to hold on to him…

  4. Rotoprofessor says:

    OlderiesButGoodSoFaries – Arroyo is a solid option, though he’s prone for the blow-up game now and then. Just be prepared for that, but if you are keeping him in your lineup every start (and not trying to stream him), he’ll be solid. As for Westbrook, he’s had strong starts before and then fell off a cliff. I wouldn’t count on him.

    Sawyer – Time will tell…

    muddy cleats – Who knows. It’s hard to predict what they will do in Cincinnati, unfortunately. There is probably just as good of a chance (if not better) that he ends up closing then starting. Regardless, I’d be looking for a great return before I moved ihm.

  5. Nick Tenaglia says:

    RotoProf, your hatred of Hellickson is always a joy for me to read, but your argument is just a little off.

    In 2011, Hellboy’s BABIP was .223 but it came along with a LD Rate of 20% – which translates into an expected BABIP of .320. Clearly he was getting lucky. But this year, even though his BABIP has decreased to .218, his LD Rate – at 14% – does not indicate that luck is still on his side, as his xBABIP is at .260.

    Hellickson owners should not be concerned about his luck right now, but rather his “stuff.” There are 4 data points that I would like to draw your attention to:
    1. Swing %
    2. Contact %
    3. First Strike %
    4. Swinging Strike %

    Swing Percentage
    In 2011, Hellickson had a Swing Rate of 46.4% and in 2012 that rate has dropped to 42.4%. He currently has the 20th lowest Swing Rate of all qualified SPs.

    Contact Percentage
    Hellickson’s 2011 Contact Rate was 78.7% and this year it has risen to 81.6%. His 2011 mark was 25th lowest among qualified SPs, but his 2012 number is ranked only 62nd lowest.

    First Strike Percentage
    Hellickson had a 2011 First-Strike Rate of 60.2% versus 2012’s rate of 56.5%. While neither number is overly impressive, his rank among qualified pitchers has still dipped from 57th down to 70th.

    Swinging Strike Percentage
    His 2011 Swinging Strike rate was 9.7% and his 2012 rate is down to 7.6%. That 2011 rate was 24th best in the majors among SPs, but his current number is only 47th.

    So its clear that something is different from last year, and if he keeps this pace, then the tipping point is nearing. Every peripheral number is telling you to jump ship, and I can’t disagree with that logic

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