Hellickson's cutter key to success

AP Photo/Steve Nesius

Jeremy Hellickson has gone away from his change and curveball this season to a new cutter, throwing it for a strike rate of 71.4 percent.The Tampa Bay Rays play host to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the middle game of a three-game set tonight (ESPN2, 7 ET). The two teams are moving in opposite directions – the Rays have won five of six, while the Angels have lost five of seven.

What’s Wrong with the Angels?

The Angels have stumbled out of the gate, falling to 6-11 to start the season after their 5-0 loss Tuesday night. The Angels are in last place in the AL West, already 7.5 games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers. So what’s not working for LA?

• Scored 3.9 runs per game, 10th in the AL.

• Drawn a walk about once every 15 plate appearances, the 12th ranked walk rate in the AL in front of only the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles.

• Correspondingly, the Angels have a team .304 on-base percentage, 11th in the AL.

• Have hit an AL-low 11 home runs so far this year.

What’s Wrong with Albert Pujols?

Pujols has stumbled out of the gate in his first season with the Angels. After going 0-for-4 Tuesday night, he is homerless in his last 23 regular-season games dating back to last season, the second longest streak in his career (went 26 straight homerless games in 2011).

Pujols Most Consecutive AB W/O HR
Single Season in MLB Career

Pujols is also in danger of going hitless in five straight games. He’s done that just once before in his career – September of his 2001 rookie season!

Last season, Pujols batted .301 in at-bats ending with a curveball or slider, a mark that ranked 10th-best in the majors. He chased only 23 percent of those pitches out of the zone – better than the league average of 31 percent.

This season, Pujols has batted only .091 in at-bats ending with curves and sliders. He already has seven strikeouts on those pitches and he’s chased a whopping 58 percent of curves and sliders out of the zone.

Pitching Matchup

C.J. Wilson is 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 40 career innings pitched against the Rays. Current Tampa Bay players have hit just .139 in their careers against Wilson with just three extra base hits. And four current Rays regulars are hitless in their careers against Wilson.

B.J. Upton: 0-for-17, 8 K

Desmond Jennings: 0-for-10, 3 K

Jose Molina: 0-for-10, 3 K

Carlos Pena: 0-for-8, 1 K

Jeremy Hellickson has seen his strikeout rate drop progressively in each season of his career so far (8.2 in 2010; 5.6 in 2011; 4.2 so far this season).

Last year in his only start against the Angels, he took the loss but struck out a season-high 10 batters in 5⅔ innings, including three strikeouts each of Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Jeremy Hellickson Pitch Usage Pct
Last 2 Seasons

Before this season, Hellickson’s two most effective out pitches were his curveball and changeup. He got to the most swings and misses on these pitches and hitters chased over 40 percent of his changeups out of the zone.

However, so far this season, Hellickson has curtailed the use of his two most effective pitches in favor of a new cutter.

He’s thrown the cutter for a strike at a high rate, but he’s also allowed a .953 OPS on at-bats ending with the pitch, the worst results of any of his pitches this season.

Stat of the Game

Evan Longoria has continued on a tear he began starting last September. Since then, Longoria is batting .309 with a .451 on-base percentage, ranking him third in the majors over that span, trailing only Miguel Cabrera (.470) and Matt Kemp (.456). In addition, his 1.036 OPS is fourth highest in the AL since last September.