Exit Interview 2020: Ryan Helsley

After every season (dating back to 2012), we’ve spent time looking at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals that season.  They might have gotten a couple of innings, they might have played every day, but if they played, they get a post.  Usually, I like to term this like the players are packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter.  This year, of course, was anything but typical.  So we’ll look at every player, we’ll take in some of their stats, but we won’t be giving out grades this season or delving too much into the positive/negative.  There are just too many variables in the Year of COVID for that to be reasonable.  As he has for the past few years, cardinalsgifs has lent his enormous talents to our header image and we thank him for it!

Player: Ryan Helsley

Season stats: 1-1, 1 SV, 5.25 ERA, 12 G, 12 IP, 8 H, 3 HR, 8 BB, 10 K, 7.02 FIP, 1.333 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, -0.3 bWAR

Postseason stats: 5.40 ERA, 1 H, 1 K, 0.600 WHIP

Statcast: 6.1% barrel %, 91.8 exit velocity, 45.5% hard hit %, .322 xwOBA

Best Statcast category: Fastball Spin (93rd percentile)

Worst Statcast category: Curve Spin (40th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Hero 1, Goat 3


Overview: What exactly do the Cardinals have with Ryan Helsley?  I don’t know if the answer is really out there yet.  Obviously he’s got a powerful arm.  His power isn’t very deceptive, though.  Both last year and this year his FIP was significantly higher than his ERA, which tells me he’s gotten a bit lucky at times.  He had almost a 1:1 K/BB ratio this year, which is never a good sign, after being much better in that department last year.

Helsley, an Oklahoma boy that my Musial co-host has a soft spot for, may have finally gotten his feet under him down the stretch, as his last five outings before the postseason saw him throw 4.2 scoreless innings, notching his lone save in that time span as well.  Perhaps you could give him some leniency for the rough patch he had at the beginning of September when he returned from the COVID IL, given that he had actual symptoms from the virus and was out of action for the entire month of August.  If you subscribe to that theory, and I think it’s a sound one, he still needs to work on his command (four walks, six strikeouts in that stretch) and figure out a better way to put batters away.

There’s really nothing you can take out of the splits from a season like the one the Cardinals just went through, but at least it is interesting to note that Helsley, probably befitting his starter heritage, had similar results against lefties and righties.  If he can do the tinkering that needs to do, there’s no particular reason to think he should be a limited weapon, but indeed can be unleashed against anyone.

Outlook: There was a push among some fans to have Helsley be a starter in the majors just like he had been in the minors.  It’s possible, like Gomber, he’d flourish with a more set routine, but I’m afraid that ship has sailed with Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon both pushing well ahead of him on that quasi-reliever/starter role.  It feels more likely that, if he’s able to harness his potential, we’ll see Helsley at the back end of games, perhaps setting up Jordan Hicks for the save.  Mike Shildt occasionally used Helsley in a similar role this past season (with various levels of success) and it feels like the organization would really like to see him settle into the seventh and eighth on a consistent basis.

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