This is going to sound a little odd, so just hear me out.
Should the Phillies consider offering a contract extension to Jeremy Hellickson?
It’s not a question I would have even considered when the season began. After all, he was acquired before the 2016 season from the Arizona Diamondbacks as a low-risk, high-reward trade chip, one they hoped would be able to net them something at the trade deadline last year.
It didn’t happen. The Phils did not get the prospects they felt made for a fair deal, so they held onto Hellickson with the expectation he would decline the team’s qualifying offer after the season, which would have netted the Phils a compensatory pick after the first round of the draft.
But that didn’t happen either. Hellickson accepted the qualifying offer, meaning he was on the 2017 Phillies too. Something none of us ever saw coming.
It turns out all of those things we thought were bad may have been blessings in disguise, as Hellickson has flat-out owned so far this season.
3-0— Phillies (@Phillies) April 22, 2017
Don't quote us on this, but we think that's pretty good. pic.twitter.com/fJ4HfBGXbM
After his outing on Friday, Hellickson leads all MLB starters in WHIP (0.71), and has been the opposite of most of the other starters in the Phils rotation this year.
He’s been efficient.
As Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola continue to get ahead of hitters but fail to put them away, making for starts of high pitch counts with fewer innings pitched, Hellickson has been the other side of that coin.
Following his win over Atlanta, Hellickson is averaging 13.6 pitches per inning, tied with Jerad Eickhoff for fifth-fewest in baseball. Last year, he finished in the top 20 in pitches per inning, and the difference is noticeable.
There are two main things Hellickson is doing to get through innings quickly. He isn’t walking many batters (1.13/9 innings, 9th-fewest in MLB), and has an “out” pitch that is helping to put batters away once he gets ahead.
His changeup has become one of the best in baseball, saving his team about 4.2 runs so far this season, according to Fangraphs’ wCH measurement. That is third-best in baseball among qualified starting pitchers.
He’s has thrown his changeup 27.8% of the time, third-most in baseball this year, and batters are hitting a meager .050 against it. That’s even lower than last year’s .168 mark.
Obviously, Hellickson’s pitch economy has been a godsend to a rotation that has seen a couple of the younger starters really struggle in that area. On Friday, he went 7 innings, saving a bullpen that had thrown a lot of pitches on the recent road trip to Washington and New York.
General manager Matt Klentak will obviously keep his ears open to the possibility of trading Hellickson this year. That was the plan, after all. And if another team is willing to give up something really valuable for him, he almost has to make that deal.
But if Hellickson keeps pitching this way, and the Phils aren’t blown away by any offers as the trade deadline approaches, would it be smart to sign the 30-year-old to a two or three-year extension?
Durability shouldn’t be a concern. He made 27 starts two years ago and 32 starts last year, and seems to be getting better with age. He’s also just now entering his early 30s, so he’s certainly no dinosaur.
When you consider his strengths (pitch economy and experience) with what the rest of the staff brings to the table (struggles with pitch economy and youth), as well as the perils of offering big-time, long-term deals to ace pitchers like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, perhaps Hellickson’s experience and reliability are a perfect fit for this team as they transition from rebuilding to contending.