For two years Jeremy Hellickson defied logic to a certain extent. The ERA was great. The WHIP was impressive. Still, there was no real way to explain the outstanding work that he was tossing out there given a less than thrilling skill set. The house of cards fell apart in 2013 as Hellickson fell to the point of being irrelevant in mixed leagues. In fact, he was a poor play in AL-only leagues in 2013. What happened? Will the trend of preverse performance reverse itself in 2014, or will Hellickson continue to be someone floating on the fringes of mixed league relevance?
If we look at Hellickson's record we see no difference over the last three years.
2011: 13-10 2012: 10-11 2013: 12-10
If you look at Hellickson's workload we see no real difference minus a slight downturn.
2011: 189 innings 2012: 177 innings 2013: 174 innings
If we look at Hellickson's HR/9 rate we see no appreciable difference.
2011: 1.00 2012: 1.27 2013: 1.24
If we look at Hellickson's GB/FB ratio we see no appreciable difference with one up, one down, one middle of the road effort.
2011: 0.78 2012: 1.12 2013: 0.98
If we look at Hellickson's line drive rate the consistency is stunning.
2011: 20 percent 2012: 21 percent 2013: 20 percent
That's a whole lot of sameness for a guy who saw some rather significant changes in some of the skills he displayed in 2013, as well as the end results showing a pitcher who had failed.
Hellickson is not a big strikeout arm. If we remove his 36.1 inning cup of coffee in 2010 Hellickson has never struck out seven batters per nine innings. Interestingly, his strikeout rate has improved each of the past two years.
2011: 5.57 2012: 6.31 2013: 6.98
Who knew, right? While Hellickson's strikeout rate is up one would assume, given his struggles in '13, that his walk rate must have went up. Not true. His walk rate went down. Substantially actually.
2011: 3.43 2012: 3.00 2013: 2.59
Given those two facts, and all the above info, how then did Hellickson produce such a poor 2013 season?
2011: 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP 2012: 3.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP 2013: 5.17 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Item #1 Hellickson had a .223 BABIP in 2011 and .261 in 2012. Those are "big boy" numbers. Hellickson is not the possessor of "big boy" talent. Never has been, never will be. Therefore it's hardly shocking to see that his BABIP rose to .307 in 2013 (the league average is usually in the .290-300 range). Even his .263 career BABIP has the felling of being a bit low. The "stuff" just isn't overly impressive, and the majority of his pitching line – strikeout rate, walk rate, GB/FB, line drive rate etc. – all suggest league average way more than elite performer.
Item #2 This is the biggest factor with the confusion with Hellickson. In 2011 Hellickson had an 82 percent left on base rate. That was the second best mark in baseball (Jered Weaver at 82.6 led the way). In 2012 Hellickson posted a mark of 82.7 percent, the best in baseball. Let me backtrack quickly. The league average for left on base percentage is about 70 percent. If you have a really good season you're at 75 percent. If you have a great season you're at about 78 percent. Hellickson was over 82 percent 2-straight years. No one does that, yet he did. If something happens once you can write it off. If something happens twice... you tend to believe it or at least give it a higher probability of happening again. I should have stuck with my gut and the history of baseball that said Hellickson had no shot of stranding runners at a historically high level for a third straight year. The pendulum swung too far in the other direction in 2013 as his LOB% dropped all the way down to 66.2 percent. We'll see some correction in 2014 for sure, but it would be an earth shattering shock if the mark approached 80 percent again.
I've always been hesitant to recommend Hellickson. The reason being he's just not that highly skilled. Yet, after two years of getting it done, even if I couldn't really explain it, I just accepted the reality of the situation and suggested to folks to buy Hellickson in 2013. I won't be making that mistake in 2014. Hellickson is a solid big league arm, and he should easily pitch better than he did in 2013 (in fact, his SIERA and xFIP were actually three year bests despite what seems outwardly like a lost season). At the same time, he's not a guy who should be viewed as a 3.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP arm, he's just not that kind of guy. If his "luck" returns, something no one can predict, he could end up being a nice bargain. If it doesn't totally return, and the smart money is on the luck fairy continuing to drift on the periphery, then he becomes nothing but a late round grab in mixed leagues.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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