Today I continue on with the Pod pitcher projections, this time with AL Rookie of the Year winner, Jeremy Hellickson. I have written a lot about Hellickson over the off-season, all with similar analysis. As FanGraphs readers, you are all likely well aware of the huge disparity between Hellickson’s ERA and SIERA last year. I have speculated that he would improve his peripherals enough this upcoming season that his ERA would not balloon to a level close to his SIERA, and would instead settle into the high-3.00 range. Let’s see if my prediction from just eyeing the skills is right.
IP: 200. He threw 189 last season and 155.2 innings the previous season. He started 29 games last year, which is a bit lower than a typical number 3 starter, a rotation slot that generated about 200 innings from its pitchers. A couple of extra starts would push him near that 200 mark, assuming good health of course.
LOB%: 71%. This was one of the tougher metrics to project. Last season, he posted an 82% mark, good for second best among all starters. You cannot possibly expect that to be sustainable, so some regression should be assumed. The question of course is how much. My expected LOB% formula spit out that 71% mark and since we have a limited history of LOB% marks to go by, I am sticking with it. For the most part, the best starters are able to strand a higher percentage of runners. However, that is typically the result of their strikeout and walk rates, not some separate base-runner stranding skill (and my expected LOB% formula uses the pitcher’s underlying skills to come up with its estimate). There are of course exceptions to that rule, but I need more than 225.1 career innings to be convinced that Hellickson is one of those exceptions.
GB%/LD%/FB%: 36%/19%/45%. This was probably the easiest to project and it is almost identical to last year’s distribution. Hellickson has always been an extreme fly ball pitcher and there is no reason right now to believe that will change.
HR/FB%: 9.5%. He posted an 8.1% mark last year and sports a career 8.4% mark. Tropicana Field suppressed right-handed homers by 8% and left-handed home runs by 11% last year. That equates to around a 5% reduction in overall home runs, so given the league average of around 10% (like LOB%, I need a larger sample size to be convinced of some innate HR/FB prevention skills), we arrive at a 9.5% projection.
BABIP: .275. Last year, Hellickson posted a .223 BABIP, the lowest mark in the Majors since 1988. That’s pretty crazy, especially since he was a rookie. Obviously, we have to assume some drastic regression. However, he has some things going for him that should keep his BABIP below league average. First, the Rays defense is fantastic, as it posted the best UZR/150 in baseball last year. And second, his extreme fly ball tendency suppresses his BABIP as fly balls result in outs more often than grounders.
BB/9: 3.0. He posted a rather disappointing 3.4 BB/9 last year, after always displaying sterling control in the minors, and during his Rays debut in 2010. Four pitchers who posted similar F-Strike% marks to Hellickson last year averaged a walk rate of 2.7, suggesting he probably deserved a somewhat better result. I was not willing to project that much of an improvement, but I definitely expect to see a decline.
K/9: 7.4. This is going to be one of the most debated metrics. As has been noted many times, last season Hellickson posted a surprisingly low 5.6 strikeout rate, after posting an 8.2 mark during his debut, and nothing below 8.6 in the minors. However, his strong 9.7% SwStk% and solid 78.7% Contact% marks both suggest a strikeout rate surge should be in the cards. I looked at five pitchers with a similar SwStk% as Hellickson posted last year, and they averaged a 7.6 K/9, while the four pitchers with a similar Contact% posted a 7.7 K/9. His lack of generating called strikes limits his upside and kept me from projecting much higher.
With all the metrics I project manually completed, it is time to unveil my full projected stat line and compare it to the other projection systems.
That is quite a large range for ERA projections. Even though the Fans strikeout and walk rate pairing is worse than I projected, their ERA is lower due to the high LOB% and slightly lower BABIP. It seems clear from this projected line that RotoChamps does not look at minor league data. How else to explain the 5.8 K/9 projection? That’s the big outlier in the table and leads to a projected ERA above 4.00. What is also head-scratching is how RotoChamps projects another potentially league-leading .234 BABIP, and yet that still yields an ERA projection above 4.00. I mentioned in the introductory paragraph that in past articles, I crunched numbers in my head and speculated that I would project Hellickson for a high-3.00 ERA. Looks like I was right on the money.