Washington Nationals wise to sign Jeremy Hellickson

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Jeremy Hellickson
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Jeremy Hellickson /

The Washington Nationals signed Jeremy Hellickson to a minor league deal on Friday. Although it is not a flashy signing, it could pay huge dividends.

All offseason, there have been rumors circulating about the Washington Nationals potentially signing a Scott Boras client. After all, the Nats’ ownership group has built an exceptionally strong rapport with the uber-agent, including several late signings over the last few winters.

On Friday, the Nats finally signed a Boras client. It was not Jake Arrieta, it was not J.D. Martinez, it was not even re-signing Jayson Werth (who still remains available). Instead, they signed Jeremy Hellickson to a minor league deal.

With the Nats, Hellickson will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. Some people even believe that he is the frontrunner over A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde, Tommy Milone, and Edwin Jackson.

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This has been an extremely unorthodox offseason, which is partially to blame for Hellickson remaining unsigned for so long. However, his poor 2017 campaign was also a large factor.

In 30 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles, Hellickson pitched to a 5.43 ERA. Although his struggles likely stemmed from a variety of sources, a major cause was his inability to finish off hitters.

According to Brooks Baseball, Hellickson’s whiff percentage for each of his five pitches decreased substantially from his solid 2016 season. He also recorded just 96 strikeouts, which was by far the fewest of his career. As a point of reference, he racked up 154 strikeouts in his stellar 2016 campaign.

Despite struggling in 2017, there is reason to believe Hellickson can return to form with the Nats.

2017 was rough, but Hellickson was a reliable starter as recently as 2016, so there is no question that he has the talent required to succeed in the majors. He is also a former American League Rookie of the Year and served as the Phillies’ Opening Day starter in each of the last two seasons.

If Hellickson is going to return to form in 2018, he needs to develop an out-pitch and rediscover his strikeout stuff. Fortunately, Derek Lilliquist may be the perfect pitching coach to help him do just that.

Lilliquist worked with many great pitchers during his time in St. Louis, including Adam Wainwright. The former Cardinals ace features a fantastic sinker-curveball combo, which he attributes to Lilliquist.

One of Lilliquist’s main teaching points is the importance of inducing ground balls and soft contact, hence focusing on sinkers and curveballs.

Like Wainwright, Fedde has been the beneficiary of Lilliquist’s tutelage. Fedde was similar to Hellickson last season, in the regard that he did not possess an out-pitch. Now, after working with Lilliquist, he is quickly developing a couple potential out-pitches.

If Hellickson is going to stick with the Nats, he must improve upon last season. An ERA above five is not acceptable on a championship-caliber team. However, as the fifth starter, he does not have to dominate.

Although signing Hellickson was not a flashy move, it was a wise one. He has the potential to be a great addition, but there is very little risk involved. If he returns to form, the Nats have an above average fifth starter. If things do not work out, he can be demoted or released with minor repercussions.

With Cole struggling and Fedde still developing, signing Hellickson to a minor league deal is a perfect move.

Next: Predicting the fate of 5 roster hopefuls

For more on Hellickson and what this means for the Nats moving forward, check out Ron Juckett’s DoDCast Special.