Boras On Hellickson
In his most recent Rays Rumblings notes, Marc Topkin includes the following note from super agent Scott Boras on his client, Jeremy Hellickson:
Agent Scott Boras said Hellickson’s 2013 troubles were not physical but the product of a lack of command and consistency in keeping his changeup down
The heatmaps below show the location frequency of Hellickson’s changeup in 2011-2012 versus this past season:
Those images do not necessarily agree with the assertion Boras made in regards to keeping his changeup down. The data, however, sees where he is coming from.
When Hellickson did elevate his changeup in 2013, it was punished. That is the risk of using the pitch; when you leave it up, batters rarely fail to take advantage of it. That said, the outcomes on the pitch were mostly better for Hellickson in 2013 than they were from 2011-2012.
Batters hit .201/.253/.342 against the changeup from 2011-2012 and hit .248/.292/.396 in 2013. The numbers mainly rose due to Hellickson’s issues pitching out of the stretch.
Hellickson utilized the slide step more frequently this past season, which affected the command of his pitches. In the past, Hellickson was rather deliberate to alternate his usage of the slide-step to keep batters guessing. The table below is the same indicators as the one above, but focuses on the numbers when Hellickson threw the changeup out of the stretch:
The results, like his command, are inconsistent. Batters swung much more frequently at the pitch in 2013. They chased the pitch at a higher rate, but made more contact with the pitch because it found the strike zone at a much higher rate. Not only did they make more frequent contact, but they made harder contact. The league had a .361 batting average on changeups they put into play; the league average for all qualified starting pitchers (min 162 IP) was .290. From 2011-2012, his BABIP on the pitch out of the stretch was .246 against a league average of .279
The other issue is where Hellickson missed with the pitch. Hellickson gave up 22 extra base hits on changeups this past season; the elevation of the pitch does not seem as crucial as its location.
When he missed with his changeup to right-handed batters, he missed middle-in. When he missed to left-handed batters he missed out up and on the outer half of the plate.
In summary, Boras knows his contracts and his clients. Hellickson did indeed struggle with his command and keeping his changeup down. While Hellickson did not have physical issues in terms of decreased velocity or injuries, there is no denying the fact he struggled pitching out of the stretch in 2013. The good news is the fact that particular issue is correctable, as it was for Alex Cobb in 2013 after he struggled with the same issue in 2012.