Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Opening Day Starter: 2017 Player Preview for Jeremy Hellickson

Barring an injury, Jeremy Hellickson will start his start on Opening Day for the second time on April 7. This is the complete list of pitchers who will have done that more times than Hellickson:

  1. Hall of Famer Kid Gleason (three times)
  2. Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander (five times)
  3. Jimmy Ring (three times)
  4. Hall of Famer Robin Roberts (12 times)
  5. Chris Short (six times)
  6. Hall of Famer Steve Carlton (14 times)
  7. Terry Mulholland (three times)
  8. Curt Schilling (three times)
  9. Brett Myers (three times)
  10. Roy Halladay (three times).
None of us are arguing Hellickson, who earned a Rookie of the Year award six seasons ago and owns a career 61-58 record, will ever visit Cooperstown without a ticket. But Hellickson will definitely leave Philadelphia having made a mark.

This is the second in a series of posts previewing the 2017 Phillies. Our first post looked at Odubel Herrera.

The Phillies aren't expected to contend for a wild card this year, but they could end up closing in on a .500 record, especially if any of the young players take a big jump. Hellickson, who has pitched very well since late July 2015, could be a big part of that.

What we know about Hellickson

Let's look at the numbers since the 2015 All Star Break.

Games: 42
Innings pitched: 240.3
ER: 100
Hits: 221
BB: 61
K: 195
HR: 33
ERA: 3.74
WHIP: 1.173
H/9: 8.27
BB/9: 2.28
K/9: 7.30
HR/9: 1.123

You should know that his ERA, WHIP and hits, walks and strikeouts per nine are all better or equal to (HR/9) his career marks. In other words, he's trending in the right direction. When the Phillies got Hellickson, most people called him a fourth or fifth starter. If he continues those numbers, he's be considered a third or fourth starter. That's not an insignificant thing at the trade deadline.

What to look for in 2017

Based on Hellickson's positive trends, but tinging them with his history in previous years, it's not hard to imagine Hellickson putting up another 3-WAR season. Probably slightly above.
First, he'll likely limit the number of free baserunners he allows to something like 2.3 per 9 and striking out around 7.5. That's a nice rate.

The biggest fluctuating stat for Hellickson is his batting average on balls in play. During his best years, he's at or below .276. He's done that three times. During his three years of struggle, he was at .306. If Hellickson can repeat last year's .276 mark or even go down to his 2012 mark of .264, he'll be a big producer for the Phillies.

Last year, thanks to his improved ability to turn batted balls into outs (a return to the numbers earlier in his career) and limit walks (an ongoing trend), he had one of his best years. Don't expect another leap in 2017. But don't be surprised to see some improvement.

The X-factor is consistency. Hellickson spent the first 2.5 seasons of his career putting up quality starts in 64 percent of the times he took the mound. Then he spent three years getting quality starts in 38 percent of his starts. It was a stretch that didn't see him pitch as many innings per start, give up harder hit balls with more regularity and miss time due to injury. Last year, he returned to getting quality starts in 53 percent of his starts.

What value does Jeremy Hellickson offer?

Let's look at Jeremy Hellickson as an asset. Sam Hinkie-haters can move along. I want to do this because it's a very intriguing look at what a player means to a team.

The Phillies got Hellickson without giving up a heralded prospect. The main hope was for him to eat innings. It's doubtful they expected him to have a 3 WAR, but he did. It's definitely doubtful the Diamondbacks thought they were giving up a 3-WAR pitcher.

Anyway, it was evident by June that the Phillies had received a quality asset. He was a 29-year-old pitcher who was proving he was healthy and effective. They had a dilemma at the trade deadline. Trade him for a prospect or two or keep him through the end of the season, then give him a qualifying offer. If he left, you'd be getting a solid arm. If he accepted the offer, you would have to pay him $16 million or so in 2017.

The Phillies had to consider a few things.
1. Was he worth paying $16 million based on the market? That's a tough call. Normally, no. But one had to remember that with few starting pitchers available, teams would have to give up a pick and pay a guy who recently had three straight mediocre-to-bad years, but was coming off of 18 months of strong baseball.
2. Any trade the Phillies made meant they would have to be getting back someone who would be as valuable as the draft pick the Phillies would likely receive if Hellickson walked.

Based on what we were told about offers at the deadline, the Phillies probably did a good job realizing the value of that extra pick.

Based on Hellickson accepting the offer in the offseason, the Phillies probably did a bad job of understanding how tightly teams would value that draft pick.

The other pitchers on the market got interesting deals. Rich Hill, ranked as the third best free agent, got $48 mil over 3 years. Ivan Nova, ranked 20th, got $26 million over 3 years. Edinson Volquez, ranked 27th, got $22 mil over 2 years.

Which of those contracts would you prefer, if you were going to sign a pitcher this offseason? Based on the Phillies acquisition of Clay Buchholtz, the Phillies were going to do. Maybe I consider Nova, but I probably prefer the shorter deal.

So Hellickson is back. Would we like to have a midlevel prospect instead? Someone who would fit between Scott Kingery and Mark Appel. I'm not so sure, now that we know the Phils were still in the market for an arm and probably would have given up that level of a prospect.

The question is what happens going forward? Will Hellickson pitch 30 games in Philadelphia?

Number of starts

This is the most important stat when it comes to Hellickson. Well, the two most important stats. The number of starts he makes and the number of starts he makes for the Phillies.

If he starts 30 games on the year, the Phillies' $17.2 million will likely have been worth it. Even if he goes 9-12 with a 4.20 ERA/4.30 FIP, it will have saved the Phillies from trading a prospect. But, if he pitches slightly better than that. Say an 11-10 mark with a 3.90 ERA/4.10 FIP, he'll likely bring value back in a trade or help the Phillies close in on their first .500 record since 2012.

If Hellickson starts 30 games this year, but only 15 for the Phillies, the team likely will get a nice prospect for him. If Hellickson starts 30 games this year, and 30 games for the Phillies, it's likely the Phillies could offer Hellickson another qualifying offer.

And that scenario will be interesting to watch.


Andrew said...

Kind of sad that Hamels isn't on that list. He was always overshadowed by someone just a little better (Roy, Cliff) or he was snubbed (2009 to Myers and not the WS MVP?). I know its just a symbolic honor that means little, but Hamels should have been given it more than twice in his 10 years.

ripjgarcia said...

I was just curious about most in MLB history.. but this is a fun little 7 minutes game..

I only got 18/43

GM-Carson said...

I think a team cannot make a qualifying offer to a player two years in a row.

Pat said...

I thought that too. Then I tried to confirm it and all I found was that GMs wanted to make it that way. Couldn't find anywhere that said it was currently the rule.

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