The Nationals announced today that they have activated righty Jeremy Hellickson from the disabled list. He had been sidelined since suffering a wrist sprain during his last outing on August 15th.
It’s too late now for Hellickson to help the Nats crawl back into contention. And he wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason if moved via trade. He will, however, add another arm to the mix while showcasing showcase for his own upcoming free agency.
Hellickson has neared the open market under quite different circumstances twice already. He received a qualifying offer from the Phillies after a strong 2016 campaign, but pitched poorly in 2017 after taking the hefty one-year deal. That set up a disappointing first foray into free agency, when he settled for a minors deal in D.C. in the middle of Spring Training.
Hellickson’s current contract came with only a $2MM base salary, though it did also include up to $4MM in incentives. Details on that clause have not yet been publicized, though it’s certainly possible that new thresholds could still be within reach.
To this point of the season, Hellickson has thrown 88 1/3 innings over 18 starts. That’s an average of less than five frames per outing, though that usage was by design rather than a reflection of poor pitching. In fact, Hellickson has thrived in this carefully controlled role, working to a 3.57 ERA with 6.5 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9 along with a career-best 46.2% groundball rate.
In most ways, Hellickson looks to be much the same pitcher he always has been. By mostly eliminating his exposure to opposing lineups for a third time in a given outing, though, the Nats have lopped off his typically dreadful results in such situations. Perhaps that approach best explains the good year; of course, he’s also allowing only a .254 BABIP and is outperforming the expectations of ERA estimators (4.25 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, 4.27 SIERA).
What that’s worth on the open market remains to be seen. But Hellickson has surely thrown well enough to warrant a deal that comes with a 40-man spot. It should help that he’ll have a chance to tamp down any health questions by returning for the last few weeks of the season, even if that means working out of the bullpen.