In 2014, Jeremy Hellickson will receive a salary of $3.625 million. After agreeing to terms, Hellickson said “that’s a lot more money that I thought I’d make playing baseball.” He described himself as “very excited” to avoid an arbitration hearing and “very motivated” to do better this year. Anyone would be excited making that type of money playing the game they loved. In Hellickson’s case, however, the money is especially meaningful.
In Game 4 of the ALDS, the Rays gave the ball to Jeremy Hellickson. It did not go well, but what continues to resonate is how much faith they had in him even after a rough year. The money he received in arbitration is another example of the same thing. Hellickson is coming off his worst year as a professional by far–after a 6.00 ERA in 4 appearances at Rookie Ball way back in 2005, he never posted an ERA above 3.10 in any full year at any level. Yet next season, his salary will be more than seven times what it was in 2013. The first year going through arbitration is different from the rest. While subsequent years rely on almost exclusively the player’s performance in the preceding year, the first go through arbitration factors in all pre-arbitration performance. Hellickson is being paid for his body of work from 2010 to 2013, not simply his rough year. And that same mindset is exactly what he needs as he hopes to move forward. Hellickson’s disastrous season will not define him as a pitcher.
In 2014, Jeremy Hellickson went 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA in 31 starts, a relief appearance, and a 174 innings pitched. From July 31st to the end of the year, it was almost impossible to watch up as his ERA ballooned to 7.15. He was sent down to the minor leagues to clear his head and was only marginally better when he returned. But that doesn’t mean that all is lost. His 7.0 strikeouts per 9 innings and 2.6 walks per 9 were both career bests, and his 1.2 HR/9 was a touch better than 2012. His curveball showed flashes of giving him a third plus pitch to go along with his fastball and changeup, helping him to become more of a complete pitcher and dominate as much as ever at times. He struck out 8 or more batters in a start five times after doing so just three times the previous two years combined. Most importantly, though, the Rays never stopped believing in him, and backed up their belief with a real monetary commitment. 2013 is already in the past and now all everyone wants is for Jeremy Hellickson to get back on the mound and return to being the effective pitcher everyone knows he can be.