Q&A: Jeremy Hellickson

There is a good chance that Jeremy Hellickson will be named American League Rookie of the Year this afternoon. Whether he deserves the honor is a matter of debate, but there’s no question the 24-year-old hurler got some terrific results. The Rays righty went 13-10 and led AL rookies in starts [29], innings pitched [189] and ERA [2.95].

Hellickson talked about his pitching approach during the regular season’s final month.

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David Laurila: What is the key to being a good pitcher?

Jeremy Hellickson: You have to be able to go out there and repeat your delivery and command all of your pitches. It’s not always an easy thing to do.

A lot of pitching is mental. You need all of the physical tools, but once you’re out there it’s just you and the catcher. A lot of being able to compete in this game comes from how mentally strong you are.

DL: What dictates how you attack a hitter?

JH: Scouting reports, but you also have to go with what your strengths are. You pitch guys differently in different lineups, but you do more of what you’re good at — you pitch to your strengths.

We know what kind of hitters they are from our reports. We know where they like the ball, and where they want to hit the ball, so I have an idea of what I want to do against each hitter before the game starts. You also see the swings they’re taking in their first at bat.

DL: Hitters make adjustments during a game. How do you stay a step ahead of them?

JH: You definitely have to pay attention to what they’re doing. They’re going up there with an idea of what they want to do at the plate, and it’s not the same thing every time up. You have to see what they’re trying to do. You watch their swings and adjust from there.

DL: You throw a lot of changeups [31.7 percent]. Why?

JH: It’s just a good pitch for me. I can throw it for a strike and it looks like my fastball, so it keeps guys off balance. I don’t have a mid-90s fastball, so I have to keep guys off-balance. It also makes my fastball look a little harder than it is.

How many I throw [in a game] varies. I don’t have a set number in my head before the game starts. Some days my fastball feels better than others, so I’ll go out and throw more fastballs than I do in other starts.

DL: Do you vary the movement or velocity of your changeup?

JH: I can adjust the velocity a little bit, but otherwise it’s just a straight change — a circle change. I don’t really tweak it too much.

A change is a feel pitch. You have to feel comfortable with it and have confidence in it. I think that’s the main thing. You have to have the confidence to throw it in any situation.

DL: How would you describe the movement on your fastball?

JH: I throw a four-seam and I’m not sure that I get very much. Maybe a little sinking action once in a while, but for the most part it’s just a straight four-seam fastball.

DL: You have a low ground-ball rate [35 percent]. Is that a concern?

JH: No. That’s just who I am. I don’t have a power sinker, or anything like that. I think I get a lot of fly balls with two strikes by keeping guys off balance. I’ve given up my share of home runs [21], but that’s the just the kind of pitcher I am. I’m comfortable with that.

I also don’t worry about strikeouts. I mean, if the bases are loaded and there are no outs, a strikeout is nice, but I’d rather have a five- or six-pitch inning. That helps me go deeper in the game.

DL: Is it possible for a pitcher to throw too many strikes?

JH: I don’t think so. I suppose it depends on what kind of pitcher you are, but it’s not a bad thing to keep attacking the zone. You have to go after hitters.

DL: How would you assess your season?

JH: I think I’ve done well. I’d like to do better than I have, but at the same time, I’ve had some success. I had a few rough outings early, but I made some adjustments. Primarily, I worked on staying on top of the ball. I was walking quite a few guys early on, so I had to work on staying behind the ball and throwing more strikes — more consistent strikes. That’s basically it. Since then, I think I’ve done OK. Overall, it’s been a pretty good season.



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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BDF
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BDF
4 years 6 months ago

*obligatory acknowledgment of Laurila interview awesomeness*

The most interesting thing about this is Hellickson’s acknowledgment of variability:

“I don’t have a set number [of changeups[ in my head before the game starts. Some days my fastball feels better than others, so I’ll go out and throw more fastballs than I do in other starts.”

“I can adjust the velocity a little bit, but otherwise it’s just a straight change.”

“I throw a four-seam and I’m not sure that I get very much. Maybe a little sinking action once in a while, but for the most part it’s just a straight four-seam fastball.”

With so much data available and sophisticated analytical tools available to us these days it’s easy to conceive of players as rigid automatons, with certain essential line-drive percentages, or BABIP, or HR/fly ball ratios, or whatever. But players don’t experience the game that way, and that tension is one of the most enjoyable things that sabrmetrics has brought out in the game, even beyond the truths it has unearthed.

Luke
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Luke
4 years 6 months ago

I think this article explains some of the reason that Hellickson was able to best his peripherals last year – an intelligent pitcher with good strategic in-game assessments.

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