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Article: Big Splash? More Like Big Slash

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Assessing Hellickson

Attached Image: hellickson.jpg The Rays, possessing a glut of quality starting pitchers and seeking an outfielder who can be an asset at the top of the order, have been pointed at frequently around here as a logical trade partner for the Twins. The Offseason Handbook specifically calls out James Shields and Wade Davis as potential targets in Tampa's pitching corps, and there are several other names that hold appeal.

According to reports, the Rays hurler drawing the most interest is Jeremy Hellickson. This isn't surprising. He carries plenty of value as a young right-hander with a 3.06 career ERA and the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year trophy on his shelf. On the surface, he has the makings of a long-term top-of-the-rotation fixture.
A deeper look, however, would suggest that Hellickson has been performing over his head to some degree in his first couple big-league seasons, making him a risky proposition for a Twins team that can ill afford to whiff on a major trade.

I'm a big proponent of K/BB ratio as an indicator of a pitcher's outlook, and although his core numbers have been excellent Hellickson has simply been underwhelming in this category, with a 1.84 ratio in his first two full seasons. His success thus far has been buoyed to a large degree by a low BABIP and a high strand rate. There's plenty of data indicating that neither of those factors can be consistently controlled by a pitcher in the long haul.

None of this is to suggest that Hellickson isn't a good pitcher. He's very good. He was an elite prospect before joining the major-league ranks and for the most part you don't put up the kind of numbers he has as a 24/25-year-old in the AL East through sheer luck. I'm fully willing to believe that his game is tailored to produce quality numbers without big strikeout rates. His 9.8 K/9 rate in the minors even suggests that he's got some upside yet in the strikeout department despite a 6.1 mark in his first 400 MLB innings.

But the Rays will justifiably be shopping him as a young star pitcher under team control for several years, and as such, they'll be demanding a sizable ransom. In my view, he's been performing at his ceiling and has much more room for regression than improvement going forward. I see him as a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy much more than a legitimate No. 1 or 2.

That's certainly not a guy the Twins should be shying away from adding, but at what cost? Terry Ryan and Co. would be much better off identifying a talented pitcher with strong peripherals who has been underperforming and can be acquired at a discount, as opposed to Hellickson who embodies the flip side of that coin.

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