Wrapping Up Hellickson | The Process Report

Wrapping Up Hellickson

Hellickson being traded was inevitable. He was set to make approximately $4M in arbitration this winter and while the system is thin on positional prospects, it does have enough pitching on the 40 man roster to handle things barring a repeat of 2013. Owner Stu Sternberg has already talked about trimming payroll and Mike Petriello of Fangraphs computed the team had nearly $80M of committed payroll on the books for 2015 in salaries and projected arbitration cases.

In short, Hellickson’s departure was predestined. The pitcher had his highs and lows in his four seasons here, with most of the highs coming in 2011 and 2012. It is easy to say that the Rays cut their losses, but Hellickson’s statistics were hindered by bone chips in his elbow and the recovery from them. Trading him for two lower level prospects now is more about the team clearing spots on the 40-man roster to protect the talent they do have than Hellickson’s true market value.

What type of pitcher is Arizona and our friends at InsideTheZona.com getting? That depends on Jeremy.

The one issue that has plagued Hellickson over the past two seasons is his pitching from the stretch. In his first two seasons, he earned the nickname “Strandman” because of his ability to leave runners on base and outpitch his peripherals. Through his first 70 games in the major leagues, Hellickson stranded over 80% of his baserunners and his ERA was one and a half runs lower than his FIP in both 2011 and 2012. There were many who predicted doom for him in 2012 because no pitcher strands that many runners forever, and Hellickson did it again. No starting pitcher had ever stranded that many in three consecutive seasons, and Hellickson did not break that mold in 2013. His FIP was nearly a full run higher than his ERA and he stranded a below-average 66% of his baserunners. 2014 was not much better.

Some will say that this was simple statistical regression and it had to happen while Hellickson’s journey to the extremes of the statistical spectrum are more about a visible change in his processes.

From 2011 through 2012, Hellickson held batters to a .214 batting average and a .316 slugging percentage when pitching from the stretch. Normally known as a flyball pitcher, Hellickson actually generated groundballs at a 47% clip in those situations while also generating 63 harmless infield flyballs. He was able to do this by pitching both up and down in the strike zone.

Hellickson-stretch-2011-2012

 

One of the things Hellickson did so effectively in that time was vary his tempo and utilization of the slide step to help control the running game as shown in this animation from Doug Thorburn:

 

Hellickson did this because he and his battery mates struggled to control the running game. In those first 70 games, opposing basestealers were 19 for 23 when he was on the mound. In order to keep runners honest, Hellickson began using the slide step more frequently in 2013. That season, basestealers were just 6 of 10 in their attempts, but Thorburn felt Hellickson was playing with fire.

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.

Thorburn’s last point strongly points to where Hellickson fell apart the past two seasons. Hellickson’s fastball is more about command than it is velocity and it is a pitch he uses to set up his changeup. In 2011 and 2012, the league hit .231 and slugged .326 off his fastball when Hellickson pitched from the stretch and mostly eschewed the slide step. Over the past two seasons, with the slide step and its dangers in play, the league hit .347 and slugged .618 off his fastball. His average fastball looked more inviting as it was being released from a further distance away from the batters, and it was mostly coming in the same location. This was painfully illustrated in a start against Kansas City on June 13th, 2013:

Despite the fastball not being his best pitch, Hellickson used it more frequently (57% vs 52%) from the stretch. More fastballs and more slide steps helped contribute to slowing the running game down, but the overall results were disastrous. His groundball rate declined to 43% while his line drive rate spiked to 21% out of the stretch – and the animation above shows a good sample size of that.

The other factor is that Hellickson stopped working up and down, in the zone and has mostly pitched down and away to lefties and down and in to righties. The infield flyballs that helped him earlier have gone the way of the Dodo bird as he has generated just 26 of them over the past two seasons and had just four in 2014.

Hellickson-stretch-2013-2014

Hellickson is leaving the comforts of Tropicana Field for a less-forgiving Chase Field. This is not a broken pitcher as much as it is a confusing process. He has gotten away from what made him good, but can just as quickly get back that way. Perhaps an Edwin Jackson circa 2009 revival is in the cards for Hellickson in 2015. We wish Hellboy the best.



2 Comments

  1. […] -Jeremy Hellickson was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Arizona Diamondbacks last night after some up-and-down seasons as a Ray. He did take home some serious hardware in Tampa Bay -a Rookie of the Year Award and Gold Glove Award – but the Rays had to make a move to clear a rotation spot, clear salary, and restock the farm system. Check out our take on the Jeremy Hellickson trade as well as DraysBay,  Sports Talk Florida, and The Process Report. […]

  2. […] cost-conscious, and have pitchers similar to Hellickson on the 40-man roster, meaning it was inevitable that Hellickson was going to be traded. He can certainly still be a useful pitcher to the […]

Leave a Reply

#layout { padding-left:20px; }