Joe Smith had a nice item in this morning’s St. Pete Times explaining how the Rays intend to use Jeremy Hellickson* this month. Basically, he will be used sparingly out of the bullpen, will only start innings (to avoid the need to warm up in a hurry) and won’t be used on back-to-back days.
In taking the long view, limiting Hellickson’s innings makes perfect sense. He has already thrown 145 2/3 innings this season, a 28% increase over the 114 innings he threw all of last season. And, as I wrote last week, Major League teams try to limit their young pitchers to a workload increase of 20% or 25-30 innings.
Obviously, the Rays long-term goals for Hellickson and short-term aspirations for this season are going to come into conflict in the very near future. If Hellickson so much as picks up a baseball before next February, he will go beyond the workload increase limit.
I say, who cares?
Long term thinking is important but, seasons like this are not common and create a need for short term benefit. If I were Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, I’d use Hellickson (and David Price for that matter) as much and as often as he is effective. Maybe that costs Hellickson some starts or some effectiveness in a future season but, how do you know those lost opportunities will come in the midst of a pennant chase or a World Series run.
Thanks to the unpredictability of baseball, and the economic realities of the game, the Rays simply have no idea if they will be here again during Hellickson’s career and need to push all their chips into the table right now. (Just ask Dan Marino).
At least one AL Scout agrees with me telling SI.com:
“It may be the smart thing to do to hold him back, but I’ll tell you one thing, Minnesota,
or whatever team they get [in the playoffs], would much rather see the kid [in the bullpen]
than the prospect of seeing him start in a short series,” says the scout.
Says the AL executive, “No one is going to criticize you for erring on the side of caution,
that’s for sure. Look how David Price turned out. But it would be an extremely tough thing
to swallow if you know that one of your best pitchers is on the bench and not out there when
a championship is within your grasp.”
While we are kicking this idea around, how much harder is this decision for Maddon and Friedman if Niemann can’t get right?
*Look. I am not calling him Hellboy because that is a stupid nickname for a baby faced kid from Iowa. I am calling him Hellickson until someone comes up with a real nickname.