Jeremy Hellickson in the RAW

Recently, I unveiled the 2012 RAW Pitcher Ratings, preseason edition. The goal of these ratings is to strip away stats like ERA, WHIP and wins and focus on the raw skills evident in the numbers (strikeout rate, whiff rate, groundball rate, etc…). Some players, however, are destined to outperform or under perform their RAW Pitcher Ratings.

Jeremy Hellickson: 48.51 RAW in 2011, which puts him between Anthony Swarzak and John Lannan on the list.

Many fantasy GMs took Hellickson as a possible breakout performer on draft day 2011 and he lived up to the expectations by posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP to go along with 13 wins. However, it seems like Hellickson was the beneficiary of a lot of help and or good fortune. A quick glance at his K/BB rate would make any sabermatrician a bit squeamish.

Hellickson posted a well below average 1.5 K/BB rate in 2011 while also generating a well below average 5.6 K/9 and worse than average 3.4 BB/9. His .223 BABIP clearly aided his ERA and WHIP last season as did his 82 percent left on base percentage, which was about 10 percent higher than the league average. All of those poor peripherals point to a big regression from Hellickson in 2012, but there are multiple reasons to believe that he can avoid a major regression and take big strides forward with regard to his peripheral numbers.

As I discussed with Brett Talley of The Fantasy Fix last week, I firmly believe that Hellickon’s peripherals will improve this season. His minor league track record was fantastic: 2.71 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 (4.6 K/BB). Given his track record for excellent control and command, it was quite surprising to see him walk over three batters per nine innings in 2011. Just looking at the fact that he never had a minor league season in which he posted a BB/9 over three, there is plenty of reason to believe that his walk rate will come down in 2012.

There is also plenty of reason to believe that his strikeout numbers will improve as well. Last season, Hellickson posted a swinging strike rate of 9.7 percent, which put him in the Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Dan Haren territory. In other words, he has swing-and-miss stuff, but just needs to figure out how to translate it into strikeouts at the big-league level.

Hellickson is still a few years from his prime (he’ll be 25 in April), so he has time to grow. It’s important to remember that not all top prospects come out of the gates putting up great numbers – though Hellickson actually did just that with regard to ERA and WHIP. His 2011 RAW Pitcher rating is reflective of the fact that he was very fortunate last season and should have had a higher ERA and WHIP at season’s end. It is not, in this case, an indication that he will absolutely be a bust in 2012 — though you should approach with caution on draft day. If he posts similar K/BB numbers this season, then yes, I’d expect his ERA and WHIP numbers to regress in a big way. If he progresses as I think he will, however, we should see numbers that reflect regression, but still keep him in the 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP range.