The Washington Nationals finally signed a Scott Boras client this winter, he just wasn’t the free agent starter everyone expected.
On Friday the Nationals signed 30-year-old free agent starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson to a minor league deal with a non-roster invite to spring training. Hellickson spent 2017 in Philadelphia with the Phillies before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles in July.
His numbers in 2017 were less than ideal as he pitched to a 5.43 ERA in 164 innings and was worth just 0.2 fWAR. While Hellickson is not among the high profile starting pitchers the Nats were linked to earlier in the offseason such as Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn, he is only one year removed from a solid campaign in 2016 with the Phillies, where he was worth 3.3 fWAR and had a 3.71 ERA in 189 innings.
Perhaps one of the of the reasons he struggled in 2017 was because he saw his groundball rate drop to 34.9 percent, well below his career average and down six points from his 2016 numbers. He also saw his walk rate increase and his strikeout rate decrease, both of which are troubling when predicting future performance.
While Hellickson is likely to bounce back from a terrible 2017 campaign, the big question will be whether he can return to his 2016 form. Prior to the Hellickson signing, A.J. Cole was seen as the favorite to land the fifth starter job, but now that could be complicated with the addition of another veteran starter.
While the spot is still up for grabs, veterans Tommy Milone and Edwin Jackson have struggled while top prospect Erick Fedde has impressed so far in Spring Training. Nonetheless, the Hellickson signing adds veteran rotation depth to the Nationals and he seems to have a real shot at securing the fifth starter spot.
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