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« J.D. Drew's Power Drop | Main | Three Up Three Down - Rob Neyer »

Hellickson Pops to the Top

Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays won the AL pitcher of the month award for May.  He posted a 1.36 ERA for the month despite an okay strikeout rate and a poor walk rate.  His strength lay in controlling the long ball, giving up just one home run in the month.

Looking beyond the three true outcomes, however, Jeremy did something else to induce outs.  The following table shows the distribution of balls in play based on hit type:


Hellickson in May 2011
Ball in play typeNumberBA against
Ground balls 32 .125
Fly balls 25 .160
Line drives 17 .647
Pop ups 16 .000


His distribution of pitches explains the first data line of that table:

Jeremy Hellickson, pitch frequency, May 2011.Hellickson kept the ball down, inducing a good number of ground balls.  With the good Rays defense behind him, most of those turned into outs.  What it doesn't explain is the fourth line of the chart.  Hellickson forced players into pop up almost as often as batters tagged his pitches for line drives.  Everyone of those pops came down in the glove of a fielder. 

To pop a ball up, the batter must get under it.  That's difficult to do when the pitcher is keeping the ball low.

Jeremy Hellickson, pop up pitch frequency, May 2011.Nine of these pop ups came on pitches in the middle or low in the strike zone.  The batter had to work to get under those.  It seems that Hellickson got batters so used to looking for low pitches, they started swing lower in the zone, and ended up under the ball.  His 16 pops induced ranked fifth in the majors in the month of May, helping him to the lunar cycle honor.

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