Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremy Hellickson made a few waves this offseason – at least among the statistical community – when he said he doesn’t believe (or understand, perhaps) BABIP, or batting average on balls in play.BABIP, simply, measures how many hits a pitcher has given up against the total number of balls in play. Generally, the league average hovers close to .300. And let’s just say Hellickson isn’t a big fan.
“Yeah, I just got lucky on the mound,” Jeremy Hellickson says dryly. “A lot of lucky outs … I hear it; it’s funny,” Hellickson said, not quite sure of the acronym. “I thought that’s what we’re supposed to do, let them put it in play and get outs. So I don’t really understand that. When you have a great defense, why not let them do their job? I’m not really a strikeout pitcher; I just get weak contact and let our defense play … I can either handle my business or I don’t
On Sunday he continued to scoff at the sabermetric community, going 8.2 innings with three hits allowed, four walks, and four strikeouts. His BABIP for the game was a tidy.120.
So take that statheads!
With that being said, Hellickson is actually partially right. Low starting pitcher BABIPs are a skill, at least to a certain degree.
Left-hander Sid Fernandez owns a career .247 BABIP in almost 1900 career innings. Nolan Ryan’s career mark is .265. Catfish Hunter’s is .243. And Herb Score’s is .241.
And, truthfully, Hellickson may be one of those types. But it’s just too soon to know. Give it three, maybe four years before drawing any conclusions.
However, the fact that Hellickson posts a below-average groundball rate doesn’t bode well for him or his future BABIPs though. Extreme groundball pitchers tend to induce weaker contact more often than fly ball pitchers, and his big league groundball rate in over 230 innings stands at a less-than-impressive 35.5%. So there’s a more than a small chance he’s due to regress just because of that.
I am also certain about one other thing too: regardless if Hellickson’s skill set does include drawing consistently weak contact (i.e. low BABIPs) or not, he’s going to regress in 2012. Last season his BABIP was .223, tied for the thirty-third lowest mark since 1920.
And that, frankly, is completely unsustainable.
Given everything we know about him: an average-ish big league strikeout rate, his relatively low groundball numbers, and the fact that his minor league BABIPs don’t approach his numbers from last year; it’s a pretty fair statement to say that his ERA could jump as much as a run or more this season.
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