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The Phillies should bring back Jeremy Hellickson

hellicksonWhat will Jeremy Hellickson provide for an encore? The veteran righty, who takes the ball tonight against the New York Mets, is fresh off a three-hit, complete game shutout of the Miami Marlins over the weekend.

When the Phillies acquired Hellickson back in November, it didn’t necessarily cause fans to jump for joy. After a good start to his career and grabbing rookie-of-the-year honors in Tampa in 2011, Hellickson has been pedestrian at best. After a disappointing 2013 and 2014 season in Tampa, the Rays shipped him to Arizona, hoping to find what he lost in Tampa. After a 4.62 ERA last season, the Diamondbacks also gave up on Hellickson, trading him to the Phillies.

As said earlier, Hellickson won the ROY back in 2011. The Rays, D-Backs, and Phillies all knew there was a quality pitcher somewhere inside of him. But still, from a fan’s perspective, there was no excitement when the Phils traded for Hellickson. When skipper Pete Mackanin named Hellickson as the Opening Day starter, we all rolled our eyes, glossing over the aging vet and asked ourselves, “why isn’t Nola starting Opening Day?” Well, the trio of Matt Klentak, Mackanin, and pitching coach Bob McClure certainly saw something no one else did in Hellickson. Luckily for the Phils, they have reaped the benefits of Hellickson’s comeback season.

Despite the lack of excitement heading into the season, Hellickson has been as solid.  One major plus about Hellickson: he shows up every fifth day and almost always gives his team a chance to win. Hellickson ranks tenth in the National League in innings pitched with 181.1. Aside from just “being there”, the 29-year-old is crafty, timely and effective.

Hellickson is crafty in a way of location. He doesn’t have a blazing 95-mph fastball, like teammate Vince Velasquez.  He tops out at 92-mph, but he knows exactly where to put the ball. He also has a strong put-away pitch – the nasty changeup – and he uses it in all counts. He’s not afraid to start hitters with it and is also comfortable using it in three-ball counts. And of course, we have seen plenty of whiffs with two strikes. Hellickson also has an above average curveball which I think he should throw it more often. Opponents are hitting just .162 on his changeup and .163 on his curveball.

Hellicksom is timely in the manner in which he pitches. Again, unlike teammate Velasquez, Hellickson does not labor through five innings with his pitch count over 100. His poised veteran approach always showcases the three “C’s”: calmness, coolness, and collection. To be top ten in the league in innings pitched, it demonstrates Hellickson’s mentality on the mound. He goes right after guys. The native from Iowa is tenth in the National League in pitches per plate appearance. Hellickson is seventh best in the league in pitchers per inning, throwing 15.4. Another important statistic on Hellickson: he is 4th in the NL in double plays. The combination of keeping his fastball down and hitters rolling over his changeup (when contact is made) contributes to his impressive DP count.

Overall, Hellickson has been an effective pitcher. A 3.57 ERA doesn’t light the world on fire, but looking back at his starts, he keeps the team in every game. What I found surprising is Hellickson’s WAR. This season it sits at 3.1, which is higher than his ROY campaign of 1.7. Hellickson’s WAR ranks 14th best in the National League. That’s not too shabby coming from the struggles he endured the past few seasons. Can Jeremy Hellickson anchor a pitching staff? Probably not, but he has proven to be more than serviceable. At worst, Hellickson is a number three starter.

Having said all that, Hellickson will be a free agent after the 2016 season. The Phillies can offer the veteran a qualifying offer of approximately $15 million; but with a thin starting pitching free agent market, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hellickson tests those waters, hoping for a long-term deal.

Being one of the better pitchers on the open market, Hellickson will likely draw two and three year tenders from teams, worth over $12 million per year.  Should the Phillies make one of those offers?  Yes, it is absolutely worth it. It makes sense on both the baseball and financial side for the Phillies. It makes sense for baseball because of his veteran presence and effectiveness. It makes sense financially because the Phillies will have shed most of their large contracts. The Phils ranked 20th in payroll this season and when Ryan Howard and Chooch come off the books, they will continue to slide down the rankings. Even if the Phillies add a couple of veteran bats – they’ll be nowhere near the money they spent back in 2008-2011. So why not spend the money on a guy that has a positive impact on the mound and in the clubhouse? With the Phillies not opening their checkbook for another three years at least, it’s a no-brainer to spend a few bucks on Jeremy Hellickson for the next couple seasons.

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