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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Hellickson Redux

The last week of the season is a weird one here at TPIITP.  All year long, we've been using the advanced metrics to weed out the "hey, he's on a roll!" or "boo, this guy stinks!" gut reactions from your fantasy moves, helping you look at the big picture behind a small sample size of a few games or even few weeks' worth of numbers.

Now that there's only five games remaining in the season, however, the sample size can't help but be small.  Since August I've narrowed the "recent metrics" window to just the previous month's worth of results, but at this point, you can't get any narrower.  Nobody can predict what'll happen in these next five days.  I can't, you can't, Nate Silver can't....well, he might be able to, but still, he wouldn't return my requests to co-author the column this week.

With this in mind, I'm going to forsake the usual stat-based analysis and revisit my first column of the year, which considered the case of one Mr. Jeremy Hellickson.  I singled him out since Hellickson was one of the prime examples of a pitcher who advanced metrics revealed to be pitching over his head for not one, but two seasons.  As I noted last April, Hellickson had the highest strand rate (81.8%) and lowest BABIP (.244) of any pitcher in baseball during the 2011-12 seasons, numbers that helped him to a 3.02 ERA over 366 innings despite these unimpressive peripherals....

2011: 4.44 FIP, 4.72 xFIP, 4.78 SIERA, 35% ground ball rate, 1.63 K/BB, 5.6 K/9

2012: 4.60 FIP, 4.44 xFIP, 4.44 SIERA, 41.8% ground ball rate, 2.10 K/BB rate, 6.3 K/9

Chalk it up to a bit more veteran experience, a bit of turning 26 and entering his baseball prime, or maybe Hellickson just got fed up with all the fantasy naysayers, but he went out and had the best advanced metric season of his career.  Though 169 1/3 IP, Hellickson posted...

2013: 4.27 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 4.16 SIERA, 39% ground ball rate, 2.71 K/BB rate, 6.9 K/9

The boost was largely due to an uptick in strikeouts, as Hellickson struck out a career-best 130 batters.  Now, those still aren't a superb set of peripherals, but hey, they're decent enough numbers for The Luckiest Pitcher In Baseball to work with, right?  What now, is he going to flirt with a 2.50 ERA?

Uh, make that flirt with a 5.20 ERA.  To be exact, Hellickson's ERA sits at 5.16, a stunning number for a guy who'd beaten the odds for two years and is now getting busted even with better cards.  Only two qualified starters (Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson) have a larger negative gap between their ERA and their FIP than Hellickson's 0.88 drop. 

It came down to a lack of help from the BABIP and strand rate gods; Hellickson had a somewhat high .305 BABIP and a somewhat low 67.9% strand rate.  That's all it took for Hellickson to go from a fantasy dark horse into an easy roster drop come June.  I'll give it to him, however -- even in failure, he makes for an interesting advanced metric test case.

The question now is, what should be make of Hellickson for your 2014 fantasy season?  I recommended drafting him last year and, by thunder, I'm sticking to my opinion and saying you should keep Hellickson in mind as a last-round, rotation-depth selection in your next draft.  His poor season will drop him off just about every other owner's rader and, as I noted, next year is his age-27 season and he does seem to be improving as a pitcher. 

With a bit more development and a bit of luck, Hellickson could finally stop starring in Advanced Metrics: The Movie and just be your garden-variety pitcher whose peripherals more or less mirror his actual statistics.  It'll make him a lot less fun to write about but after seeing what he did to my fantasy rotation's numbers this year, I've already been to Hellickson and back.




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