What does Hellickson throw? I don’t know.

I’m looking for a little scouting help here.

Jeremy Hellickson made his major league debut for the Tampa Bay Rays last night, tossing seven frames, striking out six and allowing only two runs on three hits to help his team pick up the victory over Carl Pavano and the Minnesota Twins. The win was an key one, pulling the Rays into a first-place tie with the New York Yankees for the first time since June 19.

The PITCHf/x data shows us that Hellickson threw a fastball, change-up, and curveball against Twins in his debut, so that much I know. However, not very many game pictures are available yet online of Hellickson pitching in his debut, and that’s what I’m really curious about. I want to see Hellickson’s pitch grips. I did find this nice shot of him throwing a four-seam fastball against the Twins.

So I decided to look through the record of his minor league days for photos of his other pitches. There are plenty more images of his four-seam fastball grip, but otherwise, I’ve run into some confusion. I did find a very nice description of Hellickson’s repertoire and approach from his time at Durham in this article by Adam Sobsey. In the article Hellickson mentions adding a cut fastball this year and experimenting with a two-seam fastball.

July 11, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; USA pitcher Jeremy Hellickson throws a pitch during the 2010 Futures Game at Angel Stadium.  Photo via Newscom
Jeremy Hellickson throws a change-up in the Futures Game, July 11, 2010. (Newscom)

I’ve not been able to find pictures of Hellickson throwing a cutter or a two-seamer, but I haven’t been able to find many good pictures of him pitching at Durham, so that may explain that.

What I have found is a cornucopia of different pitches that look like change-ups to me. Either Hellickson throws or experiments with a lot of different change-up grips, or I’m missing something about his off-speed repertoire. There’s the picture I’ve included here of what looks like a circle change-up from the Futures Game three weeks ago.

Then we have another picture of what looks like a circle change-up taken at Durham in 2009. So Hellickson throws the circle change, right?

Well, maybe. Because then there’s this picture from Durham earlier this year where he’s throwing what looks like a cross between a three-finger change-up and a circle change-up–it would be a circle change except that he’s tucked his thumb under the baseball. There’s another shot of a sort of hybrid change-up from his days with the Columbus Catfish in 2007.

Apparently, he learned his change-up from Rays minor league pitching instructor and former major leaguer Dick Bosman.

Then there’s this pitch, with the picture taken in spring training in 2008. I think that might be his breaking ball, but frankly I’m not sure. It would appear that he also used that pitch last night against the Twins, if this picture from the Tampa Tribune is any indication. I could convince myself that’s a change-up rather than a curveball, particularly looking at the 2008 image, but either way, it’s a grip I don’t think I’ve seen before.

So I don’t know what to say about Hellickson’s pitch grips. Rays fans and pitch grip experts, help me out here.

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Jake Reid
12 years ago

The last pitch (the one that you think might be a breaking ball) looks to me like a palmball.  Hellickson looks like he’s holding his index finger off the ball, like Trevor Hoffman does with his palmball.

Mike Fast
12 years ago

Jake, if it’s a changeup, it doesn’t remind me so much of Hoffman’s palmball as it does of a circle change with the index finger held up instead of curled down.

Hoffman takes his middle finger off the ball, and to some extent (and varying degrees) his ring finger and index finger, too.  I wrote about the palm ball a few weeks ago here:

The reason I thought it might be a curveball is that it reminds me a little of the knuckle curve grip or beginner’s curveball grip where you point the index finger or knuckle where you want the ball to go.  But the way the 2008 spring training pitch is gripped with the other fingers doesn’t make me think curveball.

I’m also not completely sure that the two pitches in question are of the same type.

Mike Fast
12 years ago

I received the following very helpful email from an anonymous reader:

That pitch that Hellickson is throwing is indeed his Curveball ( the one w/ the index finger off the ball). You were right all along!! Hehe. There’s a couple giveaways that tell you what it is.

——One is that you can start seeing how his wrist is supinated (palm facing “towards him”). Most, if not all pitchers, start turning the forearm to this position well before they get to release. For example, here’s a comparison of Greinke throwing

a fastball:

and either a curve or slider (most likely a curve due to the amount wrist/forearm turn):

If you compare Hellickson’s FB, CH, and CB wrist positions (even at the bottom or his arm action), you can see a hint of his wrist starting to turn “inward” to prepare for a curveball.

——The other is that you can see how his middle finger is catching a seam in order to get a better grip on the ball and spin it. His CH has a “4-seam fastball grip.” gripped accross the seams. This CB looks to have the middle finger along that seam.

Hellboy’s CB is not unlike a guy throwing a spike or knuckle curve in that they take the index finger off the ball to do so.

Anyway, I hope that helps some.

Adam Sobsey
12 years ago

Hey there,
Hellickson has played with the 2-seamer a bit in Durham, but really relies almost entirely on the 4-seamer. He just started throwing the cutter, with good results, but I think he only threw one against the Twins—it comes in around 85-87 mph. Hellickson throws two curves: a traditional 12-6er, and also a slightly harder, slurvier variation. His changeup is, as you pinpointed, something of a mystery, in that sometimes it fades like a traditional change (it is a circle chg., but the way), and other times spins and veers a little to the left as it drops, almost like a very slow slider. I’ve asked him about that, and he was at something of a loss to explain why the changeup sometimes does that. (He may have been dissembling, though.)

Thanks for reading—Hellickson has been fun to watch in Durham.

Mike Fast
12 years ago

Hi, Adam.  Thanks for stopping by.  I enjoyed reading your interviews with Hellickson and commentary on his starts at Durham. 

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Hellickson in the majors so I can get a better read on his PITCHf/x data.