Much is made of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ work with advanced metrics and defensive shifts, and no player benefits from this more than SP Jeremy Hellickson. He has wildly outperformed his metrics, with a 3.20 career ERA but a 4.46 xFIP.
With a low strikeout rate and absurdly low BABIP against, all signs points to Hellickson regressing in huge ways. However, the Rays’ advanced scouting, statistical analysis and defensive shifting have allowed Hellickson to sustain this peculiar success.
The question, then, is what would happen if Hellickson was not the beneficiary of the Rays’ ways?
In a recent Twitter interaction, Grantland writer Jonah Keri — who authored a book on the Rays entitled The Extra 2% — told me that Hellickson is “going to be traded, either after this year or next.” The Rays could easily survive this with their deep starting pitching in the minors, beginning with SP Chris Archer.
Hellickson, however, may not.
Hellickson’s low strikeout rate leads to many balls in play. As the Rays play elite defense and shift better than any team in baseball, Hellickson has gotten away with his 6.26 career K/9 rate. With another team, however, he likely would not. Many will say that Hellickson would survive in a pitchers’ ballpark or in the National League, but this is not entirely true. Hellickson’s primary struggles are not with the long ball, but rather just with the number of balls he puts in play.
The trade market will be sizable for this young pitcher, but caveat emptor to his new teammates: The ball will come into play often.
Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.