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Entries in Jeremy Hellickson (3)


Hellickson's Gem

Jeremy Hellickson held the Yankees to just three hits in his first start of 2012, nearly throwing a complete game in the process.

Jeremy Hellickson vs. New York Yankees (4/8/2012)In 2011, Hellickson threw just 37 cutters, 1.3% of his total pitches. Yesterday afternoon, the young righty threw 20 cutters out of his 118 total pitches.

Jeremy Hellickson's Cutter vs. New York Yankees (4/8/2012)Most of the cutters on the left side of the graphic were to lefty batters. Hellickson affectively got the pitch in on Yankee lefties resulting in no hits and just one walk. While it's too early and too small a sample size to judge whether his cutter will continue to work for him, it's a good sign for the Rays if their young starter has mastered another pitch.


Hell Boy's K Rate

Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson was named the AL Rookie of the Year yesterday. Hellickson had the traditional stats -- a winning 13-10 record and a 2.95 ERA -- that voters typically go for. But Hellickson's fielding-independent numbers weren't as shiny: his 4.44 FIP was actually well above the 4.00 average for starting pitchers in 2011.

While few doubt that the 24-year-old Hellickson has the skills to improve that FIP moving forward, there was a curious disconnect between the number of whiffs and the number of Ks that he recorded during his rookie season. Hellickson got hitters to miss 22 percent of the time that they swung, comfortably above the 19.8 percent average for starters. But, despite that solid miss rate, Hell Boy struck out just 14.9 percent of the batters that he faced, well below the 17.7 percent average for starters.

The cause of that low K% appears to be Hellickson's difficulty in getting called strikes in two-strike counts. In fact, no starting pitcher got a lower percentage of called strikes when the batter didn't have another one to spare:

Lowest Called Strike% on Pitches Taken in 2-Strike Counts, 2011

Check out Hellickson's called strike rate by location on taken two-strike pitches, and then the league average for righties. He didn't get many (any?) calls on pitches on the corners, and he very rarely got a called strike on a pitch thrown in the zone.

Hellickson's called strike rate on taken 2-strike pitches

Average called strike rate on taken 2-strike pitches for RHP

On taken two-strike pitches thrown in the strike zone, Hellickson's called strike rate was about 41 percent. The big league average was about 61 percent. Looks to me like Hellickson got squeezed pretty badly.

Why hasn't Hellickson gotten more called strikes on taken two-strike pitches? Two factors appear to be working against him. One, as you have have noticed from the list of low called strike pitchers above, is that handedness plays a role. Overall in 2011, right-handers had an 11 percent called strike rate on taken two-strike pitches, and left-handers had an 12.2 percent called strike rate in such situations.

Two, as you also may have noticed from the aforementioned list, changeups get fewer called strikes than other pitches in these situations. Hellickson adores his changeup, and he threw it over a third of the time in two-strike counts. Unfortunately, pitchers don't seem to get their due when they locate a two-strike changeup in the zone and the batter takes it. Look at the called strike rate on taken-two strike pitches located within the strike zone, by pitch type:

Fastball: 62.7 percent

Curveball: 62.6 percent

Slider: 57.8 percent

Changeup: 46 percent

It's hard to say what this means for Hellickson in 2012. On one hand, we'd expect him to strike out more batters because he does a pretty good job of getting hitters to miss when they swing. But, on the other, righties get fewer called strikes than lefties, and Hellickson's go-to pitch in two-strike counts doesn't garner called strikes at near the same rate as fastballs and breaking balls. Hellickson's changeup is a plus pitch -- hitters batted just .188 and slugged .308 against it -- but he might want to go to his fastball or curve more often when he wants to catch a batter looking with two strikes.


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.