A few days ago, Baseball America released their MLB Rookie of the Year for 2011. Our very own Jeremy Hellickson was the proud recipient of this prestigious award. That isn't all Hellickson has going for him. During his 2011 rookie campaign, Hellickson ranked highly in several well known categories such as....
ERA: 8th in the AL.
Wins: 17th in the AL (tied).
Quality Starts: 14th in the AL (tied).
Opponents BA: 2nd in the AL.
These stats are obviously very impressive for a rookie pitcher, let alone one in the AL East. The following points are not meant to take anything away from the accomplishments Hellickson had in the early stages of his MLB career.
One of the things that really stands out about Hellickson is his FIP. In 2011, Hellickson had a 4.44 FIP, which was around a run and a half higher than his ERA. The cause for this was his low K rate and relatively (by Hellickson‘s standards) high BB/9, which harmed his overall K/BB ratio. Over his career in the minors, Hellickson never posted, in a full season, a K/BB ratio of lower than 3.12 (the higher the number, the better). In 2011, that number plummeted to 1.63.
Several theories have been thrown out there about why Hellickson's ratio took a dip, including these popular ones:
a) Hellickson struggled with his command.
b) Hellickson's strikeouts were lower than they should have been.
c) Hellickson was getting squeezed by the umpires.
Point A is merely an observation that, at our time, can't really be confirmed in this case. Point B has already been looked over by Bradley Woodrum (here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/jeremy-hellickson-strikeouts-cometh/) As far as I have heard/seen though, point C has yet to be undertaken by anyone in the Rays blog-o-sphere. So, in this post, I will attempt to see if there is any truth to point C.
In order to determine if Hellickson was being squeezed by the umps or not, I must compare his calls to those on the rest of the Rays staff (for simplicity).The first step in this process is to remove all the pitches that were swung at, leaving only those pitches which the umpire made a call on. In doing this, I will see how many times Hellickson "got the call" compared to how many times he didn't.
All of the information comes from brooksbaseball.net. Any pitch that touched the strike zone, as given by the site, is considered a strike.
Number of pitches taken by opposing hitters (roughly): 1595
Number of balls that were called strikes: 61
Number of strikes that were called balls: 121
Umpire's differential (Number of balls that were called strikes minus the number of strikes that were called balls): -60
Umpire's differential per pitch: -.0376
Number of pitches taken by opposing hitters (roughly):1895
Number of balls that were called strikes: 67
Number of strikes that were called balls: 168
Umpire's differential: -101
Umpire's differential per pitch: -.0533
Number of pitches taken by opposing hitters (roughly): 2070
Number of balls that were called strikes: 96
Number of strikes that were called balls: 195
Umpire's differential: -99
Umpire's differential per pitch: -.0478
Number of pitches taken by opposing hitters (roughly): 1535
Number of balls that were called strikes: 99
Number of strikes that were called balls: 120
Umpire's differential: -21
Umpire's differential per pitch: -.0137
Number of pitches taken by opposing hitters (roughly): 1183
Number of balls that were called strikes: 31
Number of strikes that were called balls: 85
Umpire's differential: -54
Umpire's differential per pitch: -.0456
The results are quite interesting. It appears that Shields, Price, AND Niemann were al squeezed more than Hellickson. On the other hand, it does appear Hellickson is getting squeezed. I am unsure of the numbers across baseball, but I wouldn't be surprised if umpires across MLB now tend to call tighter zones. That project is obviously too large to take on, but I am fairly certain it holds weight.
So, in conclusion, I think it is fair to say Hellickson was being squeezed, but that he was not getting squeezed in particular compared to other starting pitchers.