Throughout this offseason, Fish Stripes is counting down the top 100 all-time Marlins, as ordered by Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The countdown’s floor was set at 2.0 (Adeiny Hechavarria, among others). Today’s entrant, pitcher Rick Helling, earned a 2.5 value while pitching with the Marlins.
Helling, a 6’3”, 215 lb. right-handed pitcher from Devils Lake, North Dakota, was born on December 15th, 1970. After attending high school in Fargo, at Bishop Shanley, he attended a trio of colleges, Kishwaukee College, Stanford University, and the University of North Dakota. All that college ball did the trick, and Helling reaped the rewards with a first round pick by the Texas Rangers, with the 22nd overall selection in 1992, between Jamie Arnold (career WAR -1.6) and Jason Kendall (career WAR 41.5) Helling had a career mark of 22.6.
It didn’t take Helling long to get to the major leagues, but it took him a long time to get there for good. Just two years after his selection he made his major league debut with the Rangers, going 3-2 over nine starts in 1994, with a 5.88 ERA, a 1.538 WHIP, and 25 whiffs in 52.0 innings. He made nine more total appearances at the top level with the Rangers over the next season and a half, spending the balance of his time with the Oklahoma City 89ers in 1996, where he went 12-4 with a 2.96 ERA and a 1.157 WHIP. Despite Texas’ determination to reap the benefits of their investment in Helling, they decided to send him as a PTBNL with Ryan Dempster to the Marlins for John Burkett near the beginning of September, 1996.
Helling spent the final month of that season with the Marlins, where he posted a 2-1 record and a 1.95 ERA over four starts and a relief appearance. He struck out 26 batters in 27.2 innings and boasted a ridiculous 0.759 WHIP in his limited time. Over his four starts, he never allowed more hits than he had innings pitched, giving up a total of 12 over 26.2 innings. On September 22nd, in his final win of the season, he pitched eight full innings and gave up just one hit, a seventh inning single to Craig Biggio as the Marlins defeated the Houston Astros, 6-0.
1997 would open with Helling out of the Marlins’ bullpen, and the team posted an 11-20 record in games that he appeared in. He started seven times and ended up with a 2-6 record, a 4.38 ERA, a 1.434 WHIP, and 53 strikeouts in 76.0 innings pitched.
On May 5th, Helling pitched six scoreless innings and earned his first win of the season, a 3-0 triumph against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He gave up two hits and two walks while striking out four. May 18th would see him come on in relief and trailing the Pirates, 2-1, then strike out four over three scoreless one-hit innings in a game the Marlins eventually won in 10-innings, 5-3. On June 17th, He started and struck out six over 6.2 innings of a 3-2 win against the Detroit Tigers. The Marlins traded Helling back to the Rangers less than a year after getting him from them, for Ed Vosberg on August 12th.
Helling instantly became a stalwart of the Rangers’ rotation after returning, making 147 rotational starts without a miss and pitching at least 215 innings over each of the next four full seasons. He totaled a 68-51 record, a 4.86 ERA, a 1.424 WHIP, and 687 strikeouts in 1008.0 innnings with Texas, then played with the Arizona Diamondbacks (30 starts, 10-12, 4.51 ERA, 120 K’s in 175.2 innings, 1.298 WHIP) and the Baltimore Orioles (24 starts, 7-8, 5.71 ERA, 86 K’s in 138.2 innings, 1.413 WHIP). Baltimore cut him loose on August 18th, 2003, and the Marlins signed him as a free agent four days later.
Helling pitched 16.1 innings for the Marlins in 11 appearances through the rest of the season, giving up just one earned run over 16.1 innings for a 0.55 ERA. He had a 0.980 WHIP and 12 strikeouts. He earned a win for the Fish on September 20th, coming on in relief and pitching the last 1.1 innings of a 6-5, 11-inning victory for Florida over the Atlanta Braves.
Helling pitched in four games during Florida’s second postseason run, totaling 8.2 innings and giving up seven earned runs. without a record. Of course, no part is too small, and he earned a ring with the rest of the team. He was one of only three players to earn two rings while playing for the Marlins (the other two are Luis Castillo and Jeff Conine).
Helling played two more major league seasons, spending parts of 2005 and 2006 with the Milwaukee Brewers (35 games, 3-3, 3.11 ERA, 1.155 WHIP, 74 K’s in 84.0 innings). Although he closed his career with nary an all-star nod, he did lead the AL with 20 wins in 1998, finishing with a few MVP votes for his efforts. He totaled a 93-81 record and a 4.68 ERA, with a 1.377 WHIP and 1,058 strikeouts in 1526.1 innings.