by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
There was a time that Jeremy Hellickson was viewed as one of the top up-and-coming starting pitchers in the game. When we looked at the numbers back then, though, it shouldn’t have been surprising that he failed to maintain his early career success (strand rates of 82.0% and 82.7% in ’11 and ’12). Now that’s he’s posted three consecutive poor seasons (his best ERA was 4.52), things have turned 180 degrees. Hellickson is now viewed as a hands off fantasy option, but has the pendulum swung too far? Is there post-hype appeal?
The quick answer is absolutely, though it has nothing to do with recently being named the Opening Day starter for the Phillies. He’s always shown solid control (2.90 career BB/9), but there are two big questions that need to be answered:
- Is there strikeout upside?
- Can he keep the ball in the ballpark?
Let’s try to answer those:
Owner of a career 6.69 K/9, Hellickson has actually posted marks of 7.63 (63.2 IP for the Rays) and 7.46 (first season in the NL) the past two seasons. If you look at the underlying numbers for those two years there is even more upside, especially remaining in the National League (SwStr%//O-Swing%):
- 2014 – 10.0%//33.9%
- 2015 – 10.3%//32.0%
So in ’15 he was above average in both categories (the league averages were 9.9%//31.3%), yet his strikeout rate was below average (7.76 K/9). That alone brings promise, with the potential to rise into the 8.0+ range, and he has a put away changeup (22.88% Whiff% in ’15) to help him reach that mark. It’s been some time, but we have to remember that the former top prospect did post a 9.8 K/9 coming up through the minors (9.6 at Triple-A) which only adds to the potential appeal.
Don’t be surprised to see him reach a career high mark in this regard in 2016, something that he’s shown early on this spring (11 K over 7.0 IP).
This is the biggest issue, after posting a 1.36 HR/9 in ’15 (1.20 for his career). He allowed 15 HR (out of 22) on his fourseam fastball last season, so it’s obvious where the change needs to come. While we’d feel better about the upside had he moved to a pitcher’s park, Citizen’s Bank Ballpark allowed just slightly more long balls than the NL Average last season (2.11 vs. 1.90). Not that he was any better on the road in ’15, but the ballpark may not be as significant of a negative as it is perceived.
All he needs to do is keep the HR/9 in the 1.00-1.15 range and there’s going to be success. That’s a big if, of course, especially given the lackluster career groundball rate (39.2%). It’s not unthinkable, though, and something that is worth watching.
There is enough bounce back potential (thanks to the strikeouts) to make Hellickson an intriguing flier in deeper leagues and NL-Only formats. That said wins are going to be tough to come by and the key is going to be if he can limit the home runs. If he can’t, the results are going to be miserable. If he can, though, he has the potential to produce like a Top 50 starter.
Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference, ESPN
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