Luck is a funny thing. Sometimes it runs out on you as quick as you can say "Suzanne Collins." But other times, inexplicably, it sticks. Which is exactly the situation Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson is currently facing.
I'm speaking of luck as it relates to BABIP, of course, a statistic in which Hellickson led the world last year. His .223, looked at in relation to the expected number of .300 for an average major league starter, would indicate that the 2011 Rookie of the Year would come crashing back to earth this season. Or at least be in line for a slight readjustment.
Well, it hasn't exactly worked out that way so far.
A quick look at the BABIP leaderboard shows Matt Cain of the Giants atop the list with a .119 average. But just a little ways down, Hellickson is right there again at .206 through three starts (tied for 14th with Roy Halladay). Clearly, any statistics-based argument at such an early juncture comes with a caveat: it's way too freakin' early to judge anything.
But still, it's mildly surprising to see Hellickson back here again.
In March, Hellickson commented on the stat and the murmurs that he was simply lucky during his rookie season, telling Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:
"I hear it; it's funny," Hellickson said, not quite sure of the acronym. "I thought that's what we're supposed to do, let them put it in play and get outs. So I don't really understand that. When you have a great defense, why not let them do their job? I'm not really a strikeout pitcher; I just get weak contact and let our defense play."
That's exactly how you would want any player to react. He should have the confidence to believe that his skill has more to do with the outcome on the field than luck. And he probably is more skilled than fortunate. But there is no denying that he was the beneficiary of an above-average amount of balls hit into play which turned into outs last year. And he's at it again.
Over three starts in 2012, he's logged 19.1 innings, is 2-0, and sports a 3.26 ERA. His peripherals aren't eye popping thus far, but, so far, so good.
But that .206 BABIP is just sitting there, smacking us in the face, taunting us.
Of course, there are notable exceptions to the BABIP rule, Marlins starter Mark Buehrle is the chief among them. So who knows, maybe Hellickson will turn out to be one of those guys who annually defies this statistic.
And isn't that part of what makes this game fun?