When Jeremy Hellickson accepted the Phillies qualifying offer this past offseason, it was a bit surprising. For Hellickson, at least. Hellickson forwent free agency – and a longer contract – to stay with the Phillies one more season to raise his value for a bigger deal going into 2018. Big gamble for the 30-year old right-hander.
And for the Phillies? With Hellickson playing for a big contract, the Phillies would have the stabilizer needed in a young rotation. More importantly for General Manager Matt Klentak, however, was a successful first half would get the Phils a nice return come the trade deadline.
It was a win-win.
Unlike some of Klentak’s offseason moves (Clay Buchholz, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders), this move was going according to plan until the calendar turned to May. After an impressive April where he was 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA, Hellickson has struggled mightily in four of his five starts this month, giving up 21 runs in 24.2 innings. After a solid outing against Pittsburgh last weekend where he only gave up one run and two hits, he completely imploded in the third inning against the Rockies on Wednesday. He gave up six hits, including a three-run homer to Carlos Gonzalez, and two walks for seven runs in the third. Because the Phillies bullpen has been so bad, he actually managed to go on and pitch five innings with only 85 pitches. In the grand scheme of how bad Phillies pitching has been, that’s actually not a bad line.
While we all know he isn’t as good as he was in April, his track record has shown that he isn’t as bad as he’s been in May, either. In 2016, Hellickson had a month similar to the one he’s having now. In five starts in June, Hellickson went 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA and gave up six homers and 10 walks. He followed that up in July with a 3-1 record, 2.39 ERA and only three homers and five walks in six starts. Despite tough stretches, he has shown he is able to rebound.
Since arriving in Philly last season, he’s had a 3.84 ERA, 1.153 WHIP and a .248 BABIP. In his 10 starts this season, his strikeout percentage is down to 9.7 from 20 last season but up until his last start, and he’s walking less with a 4.5 percent walk rate. Hitters are .236 against him.
Those numbers don’t make him a top-of-the-rotation guy on a contending team, but Hellickson’s veteran arm is what playoff teams rely on down the stretch. Will he bring in the haul the Phillies got in return for Cole Hamels two summers ago? Definitely not. But Klentak has shown he values quantity over quality. If he rebounds and stays healthy, the Phils could possibly get two players to add to their already deep farm.
Hellickson’s expiring contract is perhaps what makes him most valuable to a team. That and the Phillies ability to eat a portion of his remaining contract.
Low risk, high reward for buyers.
Teams like the Giants, Rangers, and Royals – also off to slow starts – could be looking to sell off a few of their pieces. That means the pitching market will be deeper than usual. The Phillies don’t want to repeat the same mistake they made by holding onto Jeanmar Gomez too long. As soon as Hellickson has a few solid starts under his belt, I’d start picking up the phone.
Sell high, sell fast.