Watch Jeremy Hellickson Strike Out Joey Votto Three Times

By all accounts, Jeremy Hellickson had a great day this past Monday. Not only did he make his first ever Opening Day start, he pitched six innings without allowing an earned run in only 79 pitches. He walked no batters, struck out six, and only allowed three hits.

The most exciting development of the afternoon came during the three swinging strikeouts Hellickson earned against Joey Votto. Regardless of the Reds’ struggles this season, Votto remains one of the most patient and accomplished hitters in the majors, and to strike him out even once is an accomplishment.

What was the root cause of Hellickson’s success on Opening Day? There were a couple noticeable features of his outing. Brooks Baseball recorded no four-seam fastballs on the day; he relied exclusively on sinkers and used secondaries more frequently than during his time with the Diamondbacks.

Even in the miniscule samples of one start, pitch selection is a cognizant decision. This is Hellickson’s first ever appearance to not feature a single four-seamer. This decision makes sense – when you’re barely hitting 90 MPH with your fastball, it’s better to go for the pitch with more movement and a groundball focus. That approach requires confidence in the sinker, a pitch that Hellickson has traditionally had difficulty throwing for strikes. It appears he had Monday, as he was able to throw it over the plate. In total, he threw 69.6 percent of his pitches for strikes (63.0 percent for his career).

Additionally, on this night he had change-up working well with his fastball. It featured a wider velocity margin to his sinker than in the past, and featured additional movement that was more in line with the fastball. The pitches looked similar, but the velocity difference impacted hitters’ timing, and Hellickson was able to take advantage of it.

These observations don’t at all proclaim Hellickson “fixed” or in any way predict performance moving forward – we’re talking about one start here. He could fail to spot the ball and lose feel for the change-up in the next start, for all we know. However, the signs so far aren’t negative, and on this particular night, he had good sinker command and a particularly effective change-up.

While we’re reflecting on this performance, let’s take a look at the best part of it – his strike outs of Joey Votto. Should these whiffs be wholly credited to Hellickson, due to rust on the part of Votto, or both? Well, both.

1st Inning

The first pitch was the sinker, placed on the outside corner exactly where Carlos Ruiz called for it. Hellickson gets the call, 0-1.

This is the pitch that Votto wishes he could have back. This sinker runs higher than called but remains in enough to jam the batter and produce a foul ball. 0-2.

Another sinker, this time called high in the zone, and spotted well. There’s a little last second drop and Votto takes a hack; foul grounder. 0-2.

Yet another foul ground ball generated by a well-spotted sinker, this time on the outside part of the plate. 0-2.

Here’s the first change-up, generating the strikeout. Hellickson actually missed high and in on with the pitch (it’s the same location as the third pitch of the at-bat), but Votto was thinking fastball and off-speed pitch did its job. Swinging strikeout.

4th Inning

Inside fastball that runs toward the middle of the plate; Votto takes. 0-1.

Change-up placed down-and-away, that just barely caught the corner of the plate. Very good pitch. 0-2.

Chooch calls for a curveball in the dirt, and get one. Votto lays off the pitch. 1-2.

You wouldn’t exactly think that an 89 MPH fastball up in the zone would get Joey Votto to swing and miss, but that’s what happened here. Swinging strikeout.

6th Inning

Joey Votto lays off of a low changeup that ends up in the dirt. As good as the pitch was in general, there was still the occasional error in command. 1-0.

The first of Hellickson’s cutters that Votto has seen all day; the pitch comes in just below the strike zone. 2-0.

The last of two curveballs that Votto would see all day, and it arrives too far outside. Votto takes. 3-0.

Hellickson does a gutsy thing by calling a 3-0 changeup against Joey Votto. However, he’s confident with the pitch and the gambit pays off, as Votto fouls the ball away. 3-1.

Hellickson delivers a second cutter low in the strike zone, with enough movement to prevent solid contact. Votto fouls off the pitch. 3-2.

At last, the first sinker called during this at-bat. Hellickson spots the ball where Ruiz sets up, and Votto swings right through. Swinging Strikeout.

All pitch classifications used from Brooks Baseball.

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  1. Timber

    April 06, 2016 12:45 PM

    One small quibble with the he only threw sinkers argument. While Brooks classified all his fastballs as sinkers/two-seamers from this outing, look at the movement on the pitch:

    Horizontal: -8.7
    Vertical: 8.7

    This looks like a mash-up of his fourseamers and sinkers from 2015.

    Fourseamer Horizontal: -6.9
    Fourseamer Vertical: 8.8
    Sinker Horizontal: -8.8
    Sinker Vertical: 6.2

    The “sinker” he threw on Monday had the run of his 2015 sinker but the rise of his 2015 fourseamer. It’s very possible Brooks could be classifying both pitches as the same one because the movement is so similar. The pitch classifications that Fangraphs uses has him throwing two separate pitches.

    • Romus

      April 06, 2016 03:04 PM

      I also could not quite understand how they are able to differentiate.
      If a pitcher decides just to move his index finger a I/2 inch off the seam , between the two seams, with the traditional 2S grip….it then could become a cutter., or maybe still a 2seamer since the two fingers (index and middle) are not actually touching.

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