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Jeremy Hellickson comes up to the house

Hellickson is gone, and it's all my fault.

Jared Wickerham

Jeremy Hellickson deserved better than this, but I can’t quite figure out why.

You don’t have to agree with me. I know that you don't. I read the comments on the other page. Y'all are pretty much right. After the stunt he pulled this year, it’s clear that he didn’t have the best interest of the club in mind, and didn’t mind a little deception. Waiting to reveal you’ve been in pain until after you run up next year’s arbitration salary is an insane thing to do. Absurd. You can’t help but think that if it’d happened in a bigger market with sportswriters that don’t mind going for the jugular, Hellickson would’ve been a black sheep for the rest of his time here.

And that really sucks. It sucks that Helloween had to end like this, after a disappointing season for the Rays, during a disappointing offseason, on this one particular disappointment.

It’s regression, technically, but it doesn’t really feel like that. It’s more like the feeling you get when you grow up and you realize it’s easier and easier to fall asleep on Christmas Eve.

Ask most Rays fans about Hellickson, and few will have much good to say. By traditional metrics, he’s been getting worse each year. He’s also taking longer and longer to actually pitch, and works at one of the slowest paces in the majors. This on a Rays team that at one point was ranked as the slowest pitching team in the history of the PITCH F/X era.

But this isn’t really where the similarities end. Hellickson, a 4th round draft pick, has fit in perfectly with the Rays philosophy. He doesn’t over-power you with a power fastball. He also won’t walk you, at least not when he’s pitching how he should. He has a deep arsenal, but his best offering also happens to be the core of The Rays Way: a plus changeup that can be thrown to any batter at any time. If Jim Hickey and Andrew Friedman could get together and build a man out of lawn clippings, textiles, and clay, that golem wouldn’t be too dissimilar to Hellickson.


Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s another great thing about Hellboy: he’s stupidly unflappable. Here’s an interview with him after a meaningless loss in a lost year. Here he is after his major league debut. They are indistinguishable. He does actually smile in the second video, making the grand total of Hellickson smiles I’ve seen on video in my lifetime = 1. This is endearing to me, for reasons I can’t really describe or really defend. (Plus, I’m not consistent with it. I love it when Chris Archer gets worked up on the mound: it makes it seem like he cares. But I also love Hellickson’s distant, lost stares. You don’t have to tell me that it’s weird, I already know).

Here’s something weirder: Hellickson was my prospect. I began following the team in ’08, pretty much right after the All-Star break. I'm not ashamed to say that was when the team caught my interest, and the Rays -- for as long as I’ve been following them (and I mean, really following them, not just going to baseball games so that my dad would buy me that granular ice cream they sold in green and black plastic hats) -- have never been a bad baseball team.

Think about that for a second. I am a dumb spoiled baby who has never really known what it’s like to not be above-average. The years of frustration and malaise during the Naimoli years -- heck, why limit this to just the Rays? -- the years of frustration and also-rans during literally every baseball season since the beginning of time, all of that is just ancient history to me. Yesterday I read a book about the Cuban Missile Crisis: these two histories are functionally identical in my experience.

And so Jeremy Hellickson was my first introduction into real baseball fandom.

He got real big in ’09, when I was really introduced to the concept of a farm system (do you remember when you learned what the minor leagues and prospects were?) and sabermetrics, because everyone I knew was old school baseball and I had to be different. I learned what it was like to root for prospects, and the game took on a whole new meaning.

There was only up, because I didn’t want to think about what no one wants to consider when it comes to prospects. And Helly kept getting better and better. And in 2010, in the midst of a playoff race, Hellickson, the player that I was sure I had personally cultivated, rose to the scene and delivered. I listened to his debut from Erie, Pennsylvania at a family reunion, and I remember no one at the party’s names. Dwayne Staats called the new kid a 'Greg Maddux' and no one glared at him. Helly entered a team at his high water mark as a prospect and left as a major leaguer.

And it has been difficult to watch him continue to struggle each year.

Of course, he won Rookie of the Year in 2011, the baseball equivalent of the "Most Likely to Succeed" award. That year, the Rays made it to the playoffs in the most miraculous of ways. The year after, the team missed the playoffs, and Hellickson wouldn’t stop giving up home runs. In ’13, the Rays made the playoffs almost as an afterthought, having to play a 163rd game as well as a one-game Wild Card playoff, only to be crushed by the killers of dreams: The Boston Red Sox. Hellickson continued to struggle, it was what Hellickson did.


A rare smile -- Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The escape artist, this personification of the Rays franchise, has continued to lose more and more of his magic. It’s regression, technically, but it doesn’t really feel like that. It’s more like the feeling you get when you grow up and you realize it’s easier and easier to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. It’s like when you pass by a playground by an elementary school you used to visit, and the slide is way smaller than you remember, and the metal’s lost some of its luster, and you have to lift up your legs to swing across the monkey bars.

And now he’s leaving, and nobody is mourning.

If Jim Hickey and Andrew Friedman could get together and build a man out of lawn clippings, textiles, and clay, that golem wouldn’t be too dissimilar to Hellickson.

It’s not like we’re losing David Price, right? There’s pitching in the pipeline that can perform better than Hellickson for the league minimum. He’s not the cornerstone of the franchise; he has never been.

Right?

This is basically just over 1,200 words about a slightly above-average pitcher who sullied his reputation with a sneaky Boras move. I have convinced no one of Jeremy Hellickson's importance to this franchise. This has been a waste of time.

Moving Jeremy is a pragmatic and prudent choice for a low-budget team like the Rays. And maybe the Diamondbacks noticed that his strikeout rate has been improving a bit over time, and maybe they saw that his FIP is trending the right way, and maybe they like that he’s still 27 years old, and will be in his prime for a few years before free agency. And maybe he will pitch very well in Arizona.

But he is no longer ours, even though he is and always was, whether you wanted him or not.

Time to go, Hellboy.