Following a 5-0 victory on Tuesday night, the Miami Marlins moved to within four games of the Washington Nationals in the NL East race. Of all the factors that have contributed to their deficit in the standings, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson wasn’t supposed to be one of them.
The Philadelphia Phillies traded one of their rookie league pitchers (Sam McWilliams) to acquire Hellickson last November. That’s the going rate for an average starter—career 101 ERA- and 111 FIP- entering this season—with a troubling home run rate. In 2016, he has been as ordinary as advertised…except against Miami.
The Fish have lost to the Phillies in each of four games started by Hellickson. The free-agent-to-be owns a 2.13 ERA across 25.1 IP in those outings, with a stellar 0.87 WHIP and 5.67 K/BB ratio.
This isn’t an entirely unique phenomenon. There have been 11 previous players who pitched at least 25 innings against the Marlins in a single summer while maintaining a lower earned run average than Hellickson’s. However, it’s a group loaded with All-Stars and Hall of Famers, most of who took advantage of the franchise when there was less talent in the lineup.
There’s no shame in getting beat by Roy Halladay and R.A. Dickey in the middle of their NL Cy Young campaigns. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez were only a few years removed from their tremendous primes.
But Chad Ogea? He of the 4.9 career fWAR? The guy who feasted on the 1999 Marlins, and then failed to land another major league contract?! He’s here to remind us that it’s foolish to search for meaning in tiny sample sizes.
Foolish yet fun.
Watching from their respective dugouts on Monday while Hellickson tossed his latest gem, Ryan Howard and Barry Bonds both know how it feels to silence a South Florida crowd.
En route to 2006 NL MVP honors, Howard devastated Marlins pitching more than any other individual ever has. In 18 games, he batted .481/.667/1.074 and homered nine times—the highest single-season total for a Marlins opponent—despite losing 11 plate appearances to intentional walks. Even most of his outs were productive, as the strikeout-prone slugger whiffed only 10 times in 84 opportunities.
Sorting by OPS and using a minimum of 50 PA per season, Bonds’ 1996 season (1.203 OPS) was the 11th-best against the Fish. His San Francisco Giants didn’t play in the same division, but the more balanced schedule of that era helped him qualify for this leaderboard.
The wacky outlier of the group is Matt Diaz, who found his major league niche as a platoon outfielder/pinch-hitter. The Marlins’ leading innings-eaters in 2006—Dontrelle Willis and Scott Olsen—were both left-handed, which explains why Diaz’s role expanded in the season series. (Given that context, Howard’s dismantling of the ‘06 pitching staff as a left-handed batter seems all the more impressive.)
This site has written at length about the inconsistency at the back end of Miami’s rotation and the front office’s wide-ranging search for upgrades. Many variables need to be taken into consideration when trading assets for a veteran player, but that player’s performance against your team should not carry much weight.
So even though Jeremy Hellickson has been a master “fisherman” this season, the Marlins (hopefully) know better than to allow that to drive up the asking price in trade talks.
*Pitcher/Hitter tables courtesy of the Baseball-Reference Play Index