- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Jeremy Hellickson is Ready, Are the Rays?

The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in baseball at 32-13 and not surprisingly are receiving strong pitching performances from all five guys in their rotation. Here are the fantasy numbers for the Rays’ SP:

Name Wins ERA Ks WHIP
Matt Garza 5 2.37 54 1.08
David Price 7 2.41 46 1.14
Jeff Niemann 4 2.54 36 1.09
James Shields 5 3.08 66 1.29
Wade Davis 4 4.01 34 1.48

Those numbers look very good, but let’s examine two other numbers for each pitcher.

Name K/BB xFIP
Matt Garza 2.70 4.19
David Price 2 4.15
Jeff Niemann 2.12 4.50
James Shields 5.50 2.91
Wade Davis 1.26 5.02

The Rays’ staff goes from being excellent to being less impressive after Shields when we look at these other numbers. Davis goes from a very strong #5 pitcher to one who looks more league average. Out of 51 qualified pitchers in the American League, Davis ranks 47th in K/BB and 46th in xFIP. And in his last four starts, Davis has gone 1-3 with a 5.75 ERA. He has 11 BB and 12 Ks in 20.1 IP and has allowed 4 HR in that span.

Normally, the conclusion might be that Davis is just hitting a rough patch and that he should be given a chance to straighten things out. Especially given his status as a former top prospect and a player who is just 24-years old and holding his own in the toughest division in baseball.

But complicating matters for the Rays is the presence of another top prospect in Triple-A who is having great success in Durham. Jeremy Hellickson, rated the Rays’ number-two prospect by our own Marc Hulet prior to the season, is pitching lights-out in the International League this year. Hellickson is 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 10 starts this year.

Hellickson has 12 BB and 60 Ks in 58 IP and has allowed just 2 HR. Monday night ne pitched eight scoreless innings against Pawtucket and allowed just one hit. It really is not much of a surprise that Hellickson is doing well in Triple-A. He got a mid-season promotion to Durham last year and went 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 9 starts there in 2009.

In parts of two seasons at Triple-A, Hellickson is 13-3 with a 2.65 ERA. He has allowed 27 BB and notched 130 Ks in 115.1 IP. The only less than glowing marker is his ground ball rate. Minor League Splits shows him with a 31.5 GB% (not counting his start against PAW) this season. However, that might be a sample size issue, as he has a 43.5 GB% in his minor league career and had a 44.2 percent mark in Durham last year.

Listed as 6’1 by MiLB, Hellickson does not have intimidating size. Minor league prospect maven John Sickels compared him to Roy Oswalt in this regard prior to this season. Oswalt came up at age 23, spent eight games in the bullpen, moved into the starting rotation in June and ended up with a 14-3 record his rookie year.

It would not be surprising to see Hellickson on a similar path, even if he does not come close to duplicating Oswalt’s W-L record. He has little left to prove in Triple-A and Hellickson has received in-season promotions in both 2008 and 2009. The big question is how long the Rays can remain patient with Davis. A 5.5 game lead in the division makes it easier to allow Davis to go out and pitch every five days without looking over his shoulder.

Still, do not be surprised if Hellickson gets a promotion soon. The Rays waited until September to promote Davis last year, but he did not dominate at Durham like Hellickson. Davis posted a 7.94 K/9 and a 3.40 BB/9 at Durham in 2009. Hellickson’s numbers are 9.31 and 1.86, respectively, this year. Like Oswalt, the Rays could call up Hellickson to begin his major league career in the bullpen with the idea of moving him into the rotation when needed.