The free-agent class of starting pitchers is weaker than in most years, making pitching-rich clubs such as Tampa Bay a popular target in trade discussions.
The Rays, in fact, are so deep in quality starters, it’s easy to overlook how good some of their pitchers are.
Case in point: Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.
Righty James Shields and lefty David Price are the Rays’ most accomplished starters. Lefty Matt Moore possesses the greatest upside. But over the past two seasons, Hellickson arguably has outperformed them all.
While Hellickson doesn’t record many strikeouts – his rate of 6.3 per nine innings last season was the ninth lowest in the AL – he produced a lower combined ERA and opponents’ batting average than both Shields and Price in 2011 and ’12.
The two-year breakdowns:
ERA: Hellickson 3.02, Price 3.04, Shields 3.15.
OBA: Hellickson .227, Price .228, Shields .228.
Of course, Hellickson isn’t nearly the same type of workhorse as Shields and Price. He threw 366 innings the past two seasons, 69 2/3 fewer than Price, 111 fewer than Shields.
It’s possible that Hellickson, at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, will never develop into a 230-inning monster. But he’s still only 25, and still quite affordable. He is not eligible for arbitration until 2014, and not eligible for free agency until after the ‘16 season.
Why would the Rays trade him, as opposed to a more expensive pitcher such as Shields? Well, Hellickson is the only Rays starter represented by Scott Boras, which means he is unlikely to sign a club-friendly extension anytime soon.
Anyway, here’s one more fun fact to consider:
In the past 10 years, 68 pitchers have worked at least 400 innings before reaching three years of major-league service. Hellickson has the lowest ERA of any AL pitcher in that group, and ranks third overall behind Tim Lincecum and Roy Oswalt.
Not bad for a guy who pitches in the AL East.
— Ken Rosenthal