Shuffling the DeckUncategorized

Shuffling the Deck: Jeremy Hellickson’s Luck Runs Out

Wil Myers took home the American League Rookie of the Year award in predictable fashion, giving the Tampa Bay Rays three ROYs in the past six years. Evan Longoria won the award in 2008, and Jeremy Hellickson followed suit in 2011.

Hellickson went 13-10 in 29 starts that season, posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 117 strikeouts and 72 walks in 189 innings. But since winning the award, Hellickson has been a peanut butter without the jelly sandwich, posting a 4.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with 259 strikeouts and 109 walks in 351 innings.

Out of 74 qualified starters since 2012, Hellickson’s 17.5-percent strikeout rate is 18th lowest (so not quite Kevin Correia bad), and he also holds the seventh-highest FIP alongside Joe Saunders, at 4.41, according to FanGraphs.

The 26-year-old had a middle-of-the-road 198.7 ADP in 2013, according to Fantasy Pros, despite recording a 3.10 ERA in 2012 — the sixth lowest ERA in the AL. That low sexy number didn’t fool the majority of fantasy owners, however, as the former ROY was drafted outside the top-50 starters. And here’s why:

Year: ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA

2011: 2.95, 4.44, 4.72, 4.78
2012: 3.10, 4.60, 4.44, 4.44
2013: 5.17, 4.22, 4.15, 4.15

First off, bravo fantasy owners. I’m sure the low number of strikeouts made it easy to ignore Hellickson, but, hey, I’m still impressed. Hellickson has made a habit of outperforming his ERA metrics, not totally dissimilar to established veterans’ Matt Cain and Jered Weaver. But in 2013, lady luck turned from a sweet-faced D.J. Tanner to her surgically enhanced sister, Stephanie, as Hellickson’s ERA ballooned to 5.17 and his LOB% face planted from an MLB-best 82.7 percent in 2012 to an MLB-worst 66.2 percent in 2013. Furthermore, his BABIP jumped from .223 in 2011 to .267 in 2012, and, in 2013, to the other side of .300 (.307, to be exact).

It’s pretty remarkable that Hellickson’s strand rate actually went from first to worst, as nearly every fantasy pundit warned readers about the extreme luck that shadowed Hellickson’s early-career performance. But instead of saying, “I told you so,” it’s probably more prudent to present some actual keeper and dynasty league advice going forward.

A pair of good numbers that stick out in Hellickson’s 2013 stat line are an 18.3-percent strikeout rate, up from 16.7 percent, and a 6.8-percent walk rate, down from 8 percent. These numbers, which also top career averages, are reassuring in that it shows Hellickson actually did make some strides, albeit it of the smallish variety, in 2013. When we look at his batted ball profile, things aren’t terribly different from past years. He did post a lower ground ball rate and a higher fly ball rate, but, again, it’s nothing drastic. For what it’s worth, he did post a lower HR/FB rate.

But that’s where the happy times end. Hellickson is nothing without his command, as his stuff simply isn’t elite. The minor league version of Hellickson regularly struck out nine batters per nine, but at the major league level, his career K/9 rate is well below league average, at 6.39. Yet another disconcerting trend is a fastball velocity going in the wrong direction, from 91.5 to 90.4. When your stuff isn’t elite to begin with, a full tick is a big deal.

It’s in no way surprising Hellickson regressed, but I do find it surprising how much he regressed. Take his 2013 line with runners on base (.311/.363/.502) and compare it to his 2012 line (.215/.300/.314.) and it’s easier to see.

I refuse to believe Hellickson is a FIP buster; I do see him returning to a low-4.00s ERA as soon as next year and not sporting the 5.17 ERA he wore in 2013. There’s a middle ground we have yet to see from Hellickson, as his strand rate should return closer to league average in 2014. The only sensible thing to do is hold on tight and hope for better times ahead. Should he return to pre-2013 levels, it’s probably in your best interest to sell high.

Alex Kantecki also writes for Fake Teams and Vigilante Baseball. You can poke him on Twitter at @rotodealer.

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Alex Kantecki

Alex Kantecki

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