Jeremy Helliickson is not very good. Jeremy Hellickson has been not very good for quite some time. And I'm not just talking an absence of good seasons, but good months. You have to go all the way back to 2012, in fact, to find a calendar month when Hellickson threw 10 innings and had an ERA below 3.49. Since the end of that campaign, Hellickson has thrown 270 innings over parts of three seasons, and has an ERA of 5.10. This ranks Hellickson 90th of 92 by ERA+, among pitchers with 50 or more starts in that time. He's ahead only of Ryan Vogelsong and Edwin Jackson, and has been worth -1.1 bWAR.
Yet, acquiring Hellickson was the first move affecting the 40-man roster made by new General Manager Dave Stewart, after he took over in late September last year.
The move puzzled many at the time, and as winter went on, it only became more of an outlier. If our other winter trades had a theme, it was dealing established players for future potential. We saw Miguel Montero, Wade Miley and Didi Gregorius, all dealt for younger players with potential upside. These transactions were the exact reverse of what happened with Hellckson, where we gave up a couple of intriguing prospects (Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams) for a man with over four years' service-time. Given the team had the worst record in baseball for 2014, it was even odder to pick up a veteran who might not even be around by the next time we contend.
shoewizard was perhaps the move's most eloquent critic.
Sorry, I just don't see it. This team has internal options that are likely to perform just as well for 1/10th the amount. If Hellickson gives you 2 WAR over the next two years for $12m you roughly break even on his WAR/dollar cost. If Nuno, Anderson, Delgado or a host of others give you 2 WAR over the next years for $1m than you bank about $11m, you've furthered the development of an in-house option and can build on that for their Arbitration years, or use them as trade value. Hellickson offers virtually no upside, no future trade value, and a break even at best scenario on WAR/dollar cost. All this before you even take into account what you gave up to get him.
Oh, the hope was clear enough: Hellickson would rediscover the form which won him Rookie of the Year honors in 2011, or the early success which saw him with an ERA+ of 125 over his first 400-odd innings in the majors. However, those results were severely bolstered by a BABIP of .245. His FIP of 4.46 to that point proved a much more accurate indicator of Hellickson's performances to come than his 3.06 ERA, with his BABIP since the start of 2013 regressing sharply to the tune of .320. Now it is fair to say, he likely hasn't been as bad this year as he looked, due to a 2015 BABIP of .376. But even his FIP of 4.24 is worse than current starter league average ERA (3.91).
Part of the problem is Hellickson nibbling too much, throwing a first-pitch strike only 57% of the time and falling behind hitters. This is something his old pitching coach, Jim Hickey, said got Jeremy into trouble with Tampa. "He nitpicks a lot – he tries to stay perfect – and gets in trouble when guys see five, six pitches, so he needs to become more aggressive in the strike zone. We’ve had this conversation for years. You need to stick the ball in the strike zone; you need to pitch to contact and make them hit the ball, not get to a point where you let them hit the ball. Your stuff isn’t above average to where you’re going to over-match guys."
This is shown in Hellickson's splits. When he has been ahead in the count this year, he has held batters to a .535 OPS, virtually identical to NL average in the same situation (.524). For obvious reasons, all pitchers do much worse behind in the count, but the implosion has been much worse for Jeremy: hitters knock him around at a 1.114 OPS clip, compared to .948 for the league in general. And an even count isn't much help, where Hellickson's split is 1.080. He needs to be ahead, and hasn't been: only 29% of the batters faced this season have seen the plate appearance end with Hellickson having the advantage in the count.
The departure of Trevor Cahill - currently with a 9.19 ERA and reduced to mop-up duty in the Atlanta bullpen - probably made the Hellickson situation less tenable, with Cahillplacements Archie Bradley and Robbie Ray being excellent. Indeed, the Diamondbacks rotation in general has been a lot better than we expected so far. Over 22 games, all our non-Hellickson starters are 9-6 with a 3.34 ERA. giving us a quality start 64% of the time and averaging six innings per outing. Hellickson is 1-3, has a 5.85 ERA and one quality start in six attempts, averaging 5.1 innings. At what point does a move get made?
It's possible Hellickson may only get one more start, if Robbie Ray's second outing proves anything like as successful as his first. Archie Bradley is currently penciled in for a return to the rotation a week from today against the Phillies, and someone will have to shift to make way for him then. Even if Hellickson survives, we are then just a few weeks from the arrival of Patrick Corbin, who pitches in extended spring training on Monday, before beginning his minor-league rehab assignment. Rubby De La Rosa is our only starter currently possessing an ERA within 2.40 runs of Hellickson's.
Let's put it this way: if Hellickson was a hangover from the Kevin Towers regime, rather than representing the opening statement of the Stewart era, he might well already be toast. We saw the new front-office's ruthless approach in the axing of Cody Ross, sent on his way while owed more than $10 million. It's like the blood-letting that occurs in Hollywood studios when a new boss takes over: his predecessor's pet projects get short shrift. With Hellickson being a Stewart plaything, it's likely he'll get a longer rope with which to hang himself. But unless something changes radically, e.g. further injuries, I doubt Hellickson is still in our rotation at the All-Star break.
It would certainly help save fans from further punishment. It's one thing to watch a slow, deliberate worker who actually gets people out: think Doug Davis in 2007, the second-slowest starting pitcher in team history (albeit three seconds per pitch faster than Jeremy). But if something sucks, you want it over in as short a time as possible: I imagine bikini waxing probably falls into this category. Instead, Hellickson starts so far have been like one of those nightmares where you're trying to run away from something with far too many mouths, and you suddenly seem to be wading thigh-deep in dulce de leche cheesecake, The sooner we all wake up, the better.