Going into last season, all eyes were on the young arms, namely Aaron Nola and newly acquired flamethrower Vince Velasquez. Even with Jeremy Hellickson slated as the opening day starter, he was seen as nothing more than the token veteran in a rotation of newbies. If he stayed healthy, he would have done his job.
Not only did he stay healthy, but Hellickson finished the season with a 3.71 ERA and a record of 12-8 in 32 starts. He provided the young staff with stability and consistency, especially when Nola and Velasquez went down with injuries.
His stability and consistency is what will be key for both Hellickson and the Phillies going into 2017. After accepting the Phillies qualifying offer for $17.2 million, Hellickson opted to continue to build his resume for an even bigger payday come 2018. The question is, will that be with the Phillies?
While he is considered the veteran in the rotation – now accompanied by Clay Buchholz – the 30-year-old’s best years may still be ahead of him. The change of scenery when he was traded to the Phillies from the Arizona Diamondbacks last offseason seemed to be exactly what he needed to right the ship.
In 2016, Hellickson tied his career high in innings pitched since his Rookie-of-the-Year season with 189, threw a career high 154 strikeouts and perhaps most importantly, reduced his fly-ball rate to 34 percent, according to Fan Graphs.
One of Hellickson’s biggest flaws is his tendency to give up fly balls – which leads to more extra base hits and home runs. Add the homer-friendly Citizens Bank Park to the mix and his career-low 34 percent fly-ball rate and 1.14 HR/9 rate are practically a miracle. Combine those numbers with his 40.7 percent ground-ball rate, and it’s no surprise Hellickson experienced success.
The Phillies are in a win-win situation. The $17.2 million Hellickson is getting in 2017 is well worth the money if he continues his 2016 success. After opting out of free agency, Hellickson now has his whole career on the line. With a successful 2017 campaign, Hellickson will be set for a big payday. If he goes back to his old ways, he will struggle to find a home come the offseason.
That’s a whole lot of ammunition the Phils will benefit from.
If he doesn’t live up to last season, there’s no harm done aside from maybe a couple extra wins in another rebuilding year. And if he does? Well, General Manager Matt Klentak will have some decisions to make. Come July, Klentak could get a nice return from a team in playoff contention looking to add a reliable arm down the stretch. If there are no valuable suitors, Klentak will have to decide whether Hellickson is part of the future in 2018 and beyond.
Much like Joe Blanton or Brett Myers was to a young Cole Hamels, Hellickson could be a veteran stabilizer to young throwers for years to come.