Hello there, friends. I’m here today to talk to you about one of the hottest names on the free agent market in... /checks notes... Jeremy Hellickson? Man, you folks are in for a real treat with this article. Here’s why he makes sense for the Detroit Tigers.
The former American League Rookie of the Year spent the entire 2018 season with the Washington Nationals, but it was shortened by a nagging right wrist injury. On the year, he started 19 games and threw a grand total of 92 innings with a 3.45 ERA, and a 4.22 FIP. He also managed a 17.6 percent strikeout rate and a 5.4 percent walk rate. Obviously, one would like a starting pitcher to give you more than 92 innings, but his numbers were solid for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Although he was more than serviceable in 2016, putting up 3.2 fWAR in 189 innings, he had a dismal 2017 with only 0.1 fWAR in 164 innings.
Not that he was ever in a position to get a long-term deal from anyone — he’s also 31 and coming off an injury — Hellickson will likely have to rebuild value on a one-year, low-money contract. Cheap contract you say? Chris Ilitch likes the sound of that!
But seriously, Hellickson is the blueprint for the type of player the Tigers will be going after until they decide that they’re ready to compete again.
He has a track record of moderate success, is coming off a down year, and could help a contender just enough to make them want to send the Tigers a decent depth prospect at the trade deadline. Hellickson could essentially serve as another Mike Fiers. Although most people (myself included) were underwhelmed by the Fiers trade, turning a pitcher of his pedigree into solid prospects who could potentially fill bullpen roles on the next Tigers contender is probably a good move for the organization. Short of spending actual money on good pitchers, this is the best way for the Tigers to improve their rotation right now.
The Tigers’ farm system is now overflowing with good arms — and even a couple potentially elite pitchers in Matt Manning and Casey Mize — but the top dogs in the system will not be ready to compete at the major league level this next season. Hellickson is the perfect bridge starter, just as Fiers was. He is a guy who, when healthy, eats innings, and typically doesn’t get shelled all over the yard.
Although Hellickson is coming off an injury, his right wrist issue was due to a nasty fall he took covering home plate against the St. Louis Cardinals. Wrists are indeed fairly critical to throwing a baseball, but it’s encouraging that Hellickson’s injury wasn’t a result of his throwing motion. I’m no doctor, but it would seem that an offseason of rest and normal training and rehab would allow Hellickson to be able to return to form and slot into a team’s rotation to start the 2019 season.
Right now, the Tigers have a rotation of Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, and someone like Spencer Turnbull or Matt Hall slotting into the fifth spot. However, with Fulmer, Norris, and Zimmermann all having a fairly significant history of injuries — not to mention the brittleness of pitchers in general — the Tigers will absolutely need another starter so that rookies or other young players aren’t thrust into situations that they can’t and shouldn’t be asked to handle.
It doesn’t matter if a team is the best or the worst, a baseball team can never have too much starting pitching depth. The Tigers are going to sign a free agent starter sometime this winter, and Hellickson will be a low-cost option who is a decent bet to once again become an effective innings eater that might actually have some value to a contender next summer.