Before last season, Jeremy Hellickson was one of the top prospects in baseball, ranked sixth in the Baseball America Prospect list. Making the Rays rotation from Opening Day, he did not disappoint, producing a 13-10 record with a 2.95 ERA, which ranked eighth in the American League. Despite giving up 72 walks, which was the eighth highest total in the league, he managed to minimize the damage by giving up just under seven hits per nine innings.
Hellickson was able to get by, in large part, due to an extremely low batting average against of .210. This was fueled by a batting average on balls in play against of .224. These rates helped offset a dangerously low strikeout rate of only 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Given that his success last year appeared mainly due to incredibly good luck with the batted ball, regression was to have been expected.
This season, Jeremy Hellickson has regressed, just not as badly as it would appear. Through 21 starts, Hellickson has a 7-7 record, with a 3.52 ERA. His walk rate is still high for a pitcher that does not strike out a lot of batters, having walked 49 batters over 120.1 innings, making his 3.4 BB/9 from last season. The strikeout rate has increased incrementally, rising for 5.6 K/9 to 5.9 K/9 this season.
The biggest cause for the regression is that his batting average against and batting average on balls in play against has come closer to league averages. This season, Hellickson’s batting average against is .250, an increase of 40 points. His batting average on balls in play against has also increased, up to .263, an increase of 39 points. Both rates, although still lower than league average, are likely closer to what should be expected from Hellickson going forward.
For Hellickson to take the next step, he needs to develop a way to consistently put hitters away. All too often, he can get a pitcher to two strikes, but cannot get the third, leading to a higher walk rate than he should have. Developing that type of pitch will also help him get deeper into games, as Hellickson has failed to make it into the sixth inning in seven of his 21 starts. Until that happens, he is likely what he has been this season, a pitcher with a roughly .500 record and an ERA in the mid to high 3.00’s.