Tampa Bay Rays third starter and reigning American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson was a popular non-choice among sabermetric-minded writers last year due to a low K/9 rate, high LOB%, and a BAIBIP of .223 which led to a FIP of 4.44 and many to believe his season was one that was full of luck.
Yesterday, Hellickson continued his lucky ways holding the New York Yankees to only four hits in 8.2 innings for a BABIP of .120 and he only struck out four batters while walking four and stranding 100% of allowed base runners. Yes, there were some nice defensive plays and positioning behind Hellickson but his success was in large part thanks to keeping hitters off balance with five different pitches, getting his fair share of infield fly balls, and successfully breaking out a new cutter and two-seam fastball/sinker.
Hellickson keeps the hitters off-balance by throwing those five pitches, each with different movement, and by changing speeds. Take a look:
Hellickson has never thrown a cutter prior to 2012. Not a single one according BrooksBaseball.net. He threw 20 cutters yesterday afternoon at an average velocity of 88.15 mph and topping out at 91.1 mph according to Brooks Baseball. Of the 20 cutters thrown 14 were for strikes including two swinging strikes. His cutter, according to Fangraphs, had a weighted value (wFC) of +1.5.
Prior to Hellickson’s first start of the 2012 season he had only thrown 11 two-seam fastballs/sinkers in his career. He threw 22 of them yesterday at an average velocity of 89.6 mph and had his fastest reading of the day off of a 92.1 mph two-seamer. His two-seamer registered a +0.6 wFT. His new two-seam fastball also aided in his 1:1 groundball-to-flyball ratio, something he did only 11 out of 29 starts last season.
These are small sample sizes from one game’s data so take them for what they are worth but Hellickson’s new repertoire will further help him keep hitters off balance and, I believe, help him keep his BABIP and batting average against lower than the league average.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt