Regarding Jeremy Hellickson's Recent Struggles

The Rays are still in the middle of playoff contention. That looks like a minor miracle when you consider the names of some of the players they’ve deployed this season – Felipe Lopez must know every TSA employee by name at both St. Pete International and Raleigh-Durham airports. They’ve been able to keep in the hunt due to their defense and starting pitching. The defensive awesomeness has been documented many times already this season, so I won’t go into that. On the mound they’ve been lead by James Shields and David Price who have put up WAR totals of 2.7 and 2.8 respectively. The number four and five starters, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, have struggled in different ways this season; Davis with a new approach, Niemann with injury.

 

It’s the Rays’ number three starter, Jeremy Hellickson, I’m going to wax on about today. For the most part he’s been steady and at times has shown flashes of brilliance (5/13 vs the Orioles). However, over his last four starts Hellickson hasn’t been as effective, allowing 5, 3, 2, and 3 earned runs in 24.2 IP for a 4.83 ERA. Before Monday’s 9K performance he had only struck out seven batters over the previous three starts while walking nine. I went to texasleaguers.com and cut his season into two chunks. Notice the differences.

 

4/1/11-6/4/11

 

Type

Count

Selection

Strike

Swing

Whiff

Foul

In Play

 

FF

358

34.00%

57.00%

34.40%

3.90%

12.60%

17.90%

 

CH

354

33.60%

67.50%

58.20%

22.00%

13.60%

22.60%

 

FT

184

17.50%

62.00%

42.40%

2.70%

19.60%

20.10%

 

CU

136

12.90%

55.10%

34.60%

13.20%

8.10%

13.20%

 

FC

22

2.10%

54.50%

40.90%

4.50%

22.70%

13.60%

 

 

6/10/11-6/27/11

 

FF

188

47.00%

63.30%

45.70%

5.90%

22.30%

17.60%

 

CH

142

35.50%

66.20%

59.90%

17.60%

19.70%

22.50%

 

CU

41

10.30%

53.70%

51.20%

12.20%

14.60%

24.40%

 

FT

28

7.00%

35.70%

25.00%

3.60%

7.10%

14.30%

 

FC

1

0.30%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pitch f/x classifications are certainly not always 100% accurate, so take that for what you will. I’m going to operate under the assumption that they are correct for this exercise, though. The first thing you notice is a 13% increase in usage of the four-seam fastball. Hitters are swinging at the pitch 11% more, and while the whiff % went up a touch, the foul % increased dramatically. The next thing you should notice is the drop off in whiffs and increase in fouls on his changeup. He’s throwing the pitch nearly the same percentage of the time but hitters aren’t being fooled by it nearly as much. This tells me us one of two things; either he isn’t locating his four-seamer well and hitters are laying off it thus reducing the effectiveness of his changeup, or he’s falling behind in the count far too often and using the four-seamer more to try and get one over the plate.

Lastly, two-seam fastball saw a 10% decrease in usage. It has much more movement than the four-seam fastball, but if he’s constantly getting behind in the count he may not have the confidence to throw it. His GB% for the month of June is down 5% from the April and May, which could be a byproduct of the lack of two-seam fastballs. The more balls put in the air the better chance for an extra base hit.


The sample isn't extremely big, and Hellickson is too good of a pitcher not to make make adjustments, but until he can get the issues with his fastball under control his struggles are likely to continue.

 

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