Can Hellweg reach his potential? Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Ahead: Johnny Hellweg


To say that Johnny Hellweg‘s 2013 debut was a disappointment doesn’t even scratch the surface. A more accurate description would be that it was an absolute disaster. Posting an ERA of 6.75 and an even worse FIP of 7.06, nothing went right for the flame-throwing right hander. There were times where it appeared Hellweg had no chance of finding the strike zone. Despite having an 80 fastball (20-80 scouting scale), his inability to consistently throw strikes kept his great stuff from playing.

Hellweg had the worst combination of outcomes imaginable to a pitcher in his short major league stint: a lot of walks and very few strikeouts. Despite having a fastball that plays with 10o and a slider that grades out average at worst, Hellweg produced only 2.64 K/9. That’s not a typo. He struck out a mere nine batters in 30.2 innings.  He combined this with an astronomical 7.63 BB/9. Allowing an unbelievable amount of walks while striking out next to no one led Hellweg to get lit up during his stay in Milwaukee.

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Despite these poor rates, all is not lost in Hellweg. He has shown an ability to prevent runs throughout his minor league career. His highest ERA in the high minors is a 3.38 with the Angels AA affiliate last year. Unfortunately, his FIP does not match his ERA. Most alarmingly, his FIP in Nashville this past year was 4.67. He posted a 6.37 K/9 and a 5.80 BB/9 showcasing an inability to get strikeouts and a lack of control.

Hellweg posted some other very alarming rates as well. He only produced a swinging strike percentage of 3.4 whereas the league average is 8.5. He only threw a first pitch strike 48.8 percent of the time compared to a league average near 60. This confirms the concern that Hellweg can’t throw enough strikes early in counts to allow his stuff to play up and get strikeouts.

Often times people want to relate Hellweg’s struggles to his height and the natural struggle to consistently repeat his delivery and release point. Despite this narrative, Hellweg actually has a pretty consistent release point on all his pitches. They all fall very close to six feet off the ground and two feet to his throwing side. One interesting tidbit to note is that Hellweg’s slider is consistently released further away from his body horizontally than his fastballs which may lead to him tipping off hitters when he throws it.

Analyzing Hellweg’s heat maps, he doesn’t appear to have much of a plan, or lacks the ability to execute a plan when throwing fastballs. He throws it everywhere in the strike zone, and has the highest concentration of pitches in the middle third of the plate. Though there is no data to support this right now, I assume that falling behind early in counts is causing Hellweg to have to groove fastballs.

It’s very hard to see Hellweg maximizing his potential. Depsite having electric stuff, he can’t throw enough strikes right now to let it play. He may be tipping his pitches a little bit which is greatly hindering his ability to fool hitters. There’s such a wide variety of outcomes regarding him. He could be anything from an ace to out of baseball four years from now. Hellweg will have to make substantial improvements to his control to even become a starting pitcher, and will then have to master some command to become a plus one. I imagine Hellweg ends up in the pen with a ceiling similar to that of Cardinals relief ace Trevor Rosenthal. I’m not confident in that projection or that he will even be a major league mainstay. There’s plenty to dream on with Hellweg, but it could also turn out to be a nightmare.

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