In our next 2018 Report Card, we profile Jeremy Hellickson, who was signed late in Spring Training by the Washington Nationals and was an absolute bargain.
The right-hander signed a minor league deal on March 17th, with Spring Training almost over as he looked to steal the fifth starter role. Then when A.J. Cole faltered, the Nats called him up to the majors, and he did nothing but impress.
He ended 2018 with a 5-3 record and a 3.45 ERA in 19 starts for the Nationals. While he wasn’t necessarily lights-out when he pitched, he almost always gave his lineup a chance to win the game by being solid.
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The Positives for Hellickson
Hellickson was able to have a lot of his success when management scarcely let him face the opponent’s batting order a third time. First time through the order hitters slashed .192/.245/.291 and second time they slashed .214/.265/.393, while third time through, their slash line was .419/.500/.721 against him. That strategy, while somewhat taxing on the bullpen, meant the Nats went 11-8 in his starts, which is a great end result for a team’s final starter.
Despite the lack of strikeouts, which we’ll touch on shortly, Jeremy Hellickson was able to have his success by limiting hard contact. According to FanGraphs, among starters who pitched at least 50 innings in 2018, the right-hander had the fourth lowest hard contact percentage in the major leagues. When you don’t have the top-end stuff to get punchouts, pitching to location and not getting hit hard is crucial. Hellickson succeeded at that.
Areas for Improvement
Yes, Hellickson’s strikeout numbers were not great, and they were among the worst in his career, as he could only record 6.4 K/9 in 2018. Some of that can be attributed to his fastball velocity averaging the lowest speed of his career at 90.2 mph, and the rest of his arsenal staying the same. Evidently, it wasn’t a huge deal given his success, but it was always going to prevent right-hander from doing much better than he ended up doing.
The other limitation to Jeremy Hellickson was that he suffered two key injuries which derailed his season. He missed just over three weeks with a right hamstring strain in June, and then followed that with a right wright sprain which meant his missed a month towards the end of the year. The latter injury virtually ended his season, as he only made one more appearance given the team’s willingness to see what they had in their younger arms.
The Final Grade
You could argue that Hellickson was actually the Nationals third best starter this year, behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. He was able to exceed all expectations, or at least he did when he was able to stay on the field.
Given the value for money Hellickson provided, he certainly deserves a high grade for his 2018 campaign. With health being the only real knock on his performance, he’s able to sneak into that top bracket in his report card. A-
Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.