One of the knocks on Jeremy Hellickson the last two seasons is that his solid ERA was not a true reflection of how well he was pitching. While he was putting up ERAs of 2.95 and 3.10, his Fielding Independent Pitching* (FIP) was not as pretty at 4.44 and 4.60.
Some feared we would eventually see Hellickson regress where his ERA would start to look more like this FIP. Others argued that there are reasons why a pitcher can out-pitch his FIP.
Well, if Hellickson’s first 12 starts this season are an indication, it looks like the regressionists are winning. Helly’s ERA has ballooned to 5.59 so far this season. And yet his FIP is once again 4.44, consistent with the last two seasons.
So the good news is Hellickson is pitching better than his 5.59 ERA would indicate. But the bad news is he is still a 4.50 FIP pitcher, which is woefully mediocre.
Below is a look at how Hellickson’s career compares so far to a couple of other right-handers without an overpowering fastball (more thoughts below)…
What we see is that Hellickson, Andy Sonnanstine, and Greg Maddux were nearly identical pitchers in their first full season in the big leagues. Maddux showed a huge improvement in year two, an FIP he would then maintain for several years. Sonnanstine was less consistent, and eventually his FIP ballooned as hitters figured him out. It was the pitching equivalent of pitchers finding a hole in a young slugger’s bat.
Hellickson is somewhere in the middle. Hitters are not getting better when they face him, as they did with Sonnanstine. But Hellickson is also not showing any improvement.
Another comparison might be Alex Cobb, who had a 3.67 FIP last year and has posted an identical 3.67 FIP this year. Cobb has consistently been nearly a run better than Hellickson per nine innings.
Hellickson is not a bad pitcher. And he is better than his numbers this season suggest. But he might not be good enough to last in the Rays rotation long-term. There are just too many talented arms battling for the five spots. And Hellickson will eventually be behind many of them and likely headed to another team in a trade.
* Think of FIP as what a pitcher’s ERA might look like if he played with an average defense in an average park. FIP tends to be more consistent year-to-year than ERA suggesting it is a better indicator of how good the pitcher really is.