What Went Wrong – Jeremy Hellickson
If fans were told coming into the 2013 season that Jeremy Hellickson would post a career-best strikeout rate, a career-low walk rate, sustain his velocity all season and thrown 170+ innings, they would have likely expected a good season from the young hurler. Instead, they watched Hellickson traverse through a tumultuous season that involved time in the minor leagues, having starts skipped, and permitted 35 more runs than he had the previous season.
What went wrong?
The data shows that Hellickson’s issues were not related to any kind of decreased velocity or noticeable reduction in his stuff as reflected by the pitch f/x data from BrooksBaseball.net. The data also shows that he was the same pitcher in 2013 as he had been the previous two seasons, at least with the bases empty.
The same cannot be said about how Hellickson pitched with men on base. Earlier this year, Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus reviewed Hellickson’s issues with men on base and attributed it to his consistent use of the slidestep. Previously, Hellickson would vary his application of the move preferring to vary his time between pitches and throwing over but used the slidestep more frequently in 2013 and it adversely affected his pitching. Thorburn summarized the issue as such:
I am a big fan of Hellickson’s delivery from the stretch when he ditches the slide step, as the big leg-kick combined with an uptick of momentum gives him an advantage at release point. His regular stretch plays even better than his windup delivery due to his typically slow motion with nobody on base, but the slide-step strategy robs him of that advantage while compounding the flaws inherent in a shallow release point. The occasional use of a slide step was not doing him any favors from the stretch, an issue that dinged Hellickson’s overall grade for repetition despite the dearth of pitches thrown with runners on base. In addition to throwing a wrench into his timing, the slide step acted to shrink Hellickson’s stride and further mute his release distance.”
Hellickson had defied projections in previous seasons with a seemingly innate ability to get out of jams and strand runners on base. That was not the case in 2013 as opposing hitters did extremely well against him when he worked out of the stretch.
This, coupled with his unwillingness to pitch inside to batters allowed batters to take comfortable swings in key situations and make Hellickson pay for his mistakes.
The good news is these issues are not related to an injury and are thus correctable. It would seem that Hellickson would benefit to returning to the methods he used in 2011 and 2012 to hold runners on base or work on improving his pickoff move rather than increasing the use of the slidestep. Alex Cobb had similar issues in 2012 and corrected those in 2013 with better tempo to the plate, varying his delivery, and execution of his pitches. Perhaps Hellickson can follow in his footsteps in 2014.