In baseball, so much simply comes down to luck in any given year. Yes, there are ways to try to shift this luck in your favor, but in the end luck, both on an individual level and a team level, is often what determines who wins and who loses. Now, if you look at statistics over multiple years, luck begins to fade out because of a large sample size. But, if you look at statistics in individual years, it is easy to see luck plays a large part in determining a player’s stats. One player who has seen his fair share of luck, both good and bad, is Jeremy Hellickson.
Hellickson is one of the more interesting cases to look at when it comes to baseball statisics. During his first two years in the majors, he was one of the luckiest pitchers. In his 2011 season in which he won rookie of the year, Hellickson posted a 2.95 ERA and won 13 games, both solid numbers at first glance. However this ERA was heavily influenced by luck. Hellickson’s BABIP against was just .223, which led the league and was way less than the .291 league average. Also, Hellickson stranded 82% of runners, noticeably above the league average of 72.5%. Both of these stats indicate that Hellickson was probably the luckiest starting pitcher in all of basebal 2011, which led to his ERA being so low. He also struggled with strikeouts and walks, as he struck out just 5.57 hitters per nine innings while walking 3.43, another indicator his ERA should not have been so low. FIP, a stat that attempts to show what a pitcher’s ERA should have been, says Hellickson was really a 4.44 ERA pitcher. Overall, Hellickson was extremely lucky in 2011.
Because of his lucky stats in 2011, many people expected Hellickson to significantly regress in 2012. However, this was not the case, as Hellickson posted another solid 3.10 ERA performance. Once again, his stats say he should not have been so good. In 2012, Hellickson was 6th in the league in BABIP, posting a .261 mark despite a league average of .293. He also was above league average in LOB% again, posting an 82.7% compared to the league average of 72.5%. His strikeout and walk rates improved, but he still only struck out 6.31 hitters per nine innings. All of this put together, and FIP says his ERA should have been 4.60.
After a bigger samples size of two seasons, people began to thing that maybe Hellickson’s luck was not a fluke, but was rather due to his knack for inducing poor contact. But, his 2013 season showed otherwise, as he posted an ugly 5.17 ERA. Not only did Hellickson regress to league average luck, but he actually became an unlucky pitcher. For the first time, Hellickson’s .307 BABIP was above the league average of .294. This year, he also posted a LOB% of 66.2% despite a league average of 73.5%. However, he improved his K/9 and BB/9, as he posted a 6.98 and a 2.58 respectively. For the first time in 2013, his FIP was lower than his ERA at 4.22, which was also the lowest of his career.
So what does all this mean for Hellickson moving forward? Hellickson’s strikeout and walk numbers have improved every year, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see this again. If he is around league average in BABIP and LOB%, he should post an ERA around 4.00. But, as we have seen with Hellickson, his luck has not been close to league average the past three years. Even so, he should not be as bad as he was in 2013, even if he can’t recreate his ERA from 2011 and 2012. The Rays don’t need Hellickson to be a star of their rotation, they simply need him to be an effective number three starter. In 2014, look for Hellickson to be closer to the 3.50-4.00 ERA range if he can continue to improve his strikeout and walk numbers. Given his past crazy good and bad luck, anything could happen with Hellickson. But he should improve from his awful 2013 and be a solid contributor to the Rays’ rotation once again.