On the surface, there is quite a bit to like about the young right-hander. He seemed to handle the best division in baseball with relative ease and pitches for what has become a perennial contender to make a run at the World Series.
However, beneath the surface there are glaring indications that Hellickson is destined to crash and burn in his sophomore campaign. At the end of the day, he simply doesn’t possess the ability to recreate his magical first season and is destined to regress considerably.
Here are five reasons that the Rays should go into the season with the expectation that Hellickson will end up as just another fourth starter.
Hellickson came to the majors primarily as a control specialist. In his six-year minor league career, he posted a very solid 2.1 BB/9.
However, if you look at his progression through the minor league ranks, BB/9 shows a very disturbing trend as he walked more and more hitters as he advanced in level. As a general rule, hitters become more patient and selective as you work your way from rookie ball through AAA. MLB hitters are the most patient of all.
With that being said, it is no surprise that Hellickson walked 3.6 batters per nine as a rookie last season. That simply isn’t good enough to be classified as a control pitcher and if he’s walking batters at that rate, he’s also missing location on strikes.
Big league hitters enjoy hitting pitches thrown with bad location. It helps them acquire large contracts.
Hellickson was lucky last season. He posted an incredibly low .224 BABIP with the league average typically hovering around .300.
Pitchers who consistently put up BABIPs this low almost always have top tier stuff, and Hellickson simply does not—with a low 90s fastball and a slightly above average selection of off-speed pitches. It’s very safe to say that Hellickson will regress near league average for this stat.
If we look at how this affects his bottom line, last season a league average BABIP of .300 would have resulted in 49 additional base hits. That means instead of a Rookie of the Year winning 1.15 WHIP, he would have been saddled with a 1.42 WHIP.
That’s Edwin Jackson territory, and Edwin Jackson gives up a lot of runs.
Hellickson just doesn’t strike out Major League hitters. Last season he produced a very pedestrian 5.6 K/9.
At the end of the day an out is an out, but the beauty of the strikeout is that it is very effective in getting pitchers out of jams. With a man on third and one out, a ground out is a run, and a strikeout likely prevents a run.
Hellickson doesn’t have the repertoire to consistently get the big K.
Let’s be honest and put this out on the table: All divisions are not created equally.
Appearing to be a top line starter in the NL Central this season will be a lot less difficult that doing so in a division like the AL East.
This isn't fair, but it's life.
With the exception of the Baltimore Orioles, every team in the AL east can rake. Throw in the DH position in the American League and Hellickson just won’t have enough easy outs to reproduce low ratios.
When the Rays have to face each AL East team almost 20 times, a pitcher better have more dominating pitches than Hellickson if he plans to excel.
Hellickson now has 33 career starts for the Rays—meaning just about everyone has seen him a time or two. With Major League baseball being a game of adjustment, hitters now know what to expect and how to combat it with last season’s rookie of the year.
There is enough data available to know when he will go to the change up or slider. Baserunners have film on his pick off move. The release point has been studied four times more.
Even with logical evidence to the contrary, Hellickson could surprise and dominate the league once again this season. He's young and did well in the past. But if you expect a repeat of last season, you're likely dreaming.
Wake up and be glad the Rays still have David Price.