How did Cardinals go from Division II to closer to dominant

by Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Even in an age of remarkable speed, Ryan Hillsley standing outside.

Only six jugs – John Doran (which is driving the road at 100.7 mph), Aroldis ChapmanAndres Muñoz Emmanuel ClassAnd the Prosdar Graterol And the Joseph Alvarado – Boasts an average fastball speed (four layers or weight) higher than the 28-year-old’s right-handed speed (99.4) in the midst of a breakout season for number one basics. But unlike the fire-breathing group in front of him—all of whom have thrown ridiculously strong since they were teenagers—developing the Helseli heater on one of baseball’s most frightening stadiums was more like a slow burn.

For better or worse, the spike in speed has been one of the most significant changes to the game we love over the past decade. There are now many proven methods for more aggressive throwers using proper training and throwing programs. It’s not like anyone can guarantee an extra five miles per hour to any pitcher, but it’s undeniable that speed training is more achievable than it used to be.

Some are simply born with the ability to throw baseballs with ridiculous force and appear that way at a young age. We now see high school students throw 100 mph at the showcases and 18-year-old international signers throw 102 mph at the low minors:

But it’s not about these guys. It’s about the rest of the population, who now theoretically have access to tools that can open a high-speed roof. The possibility of training medium-speed shooters to throw more aggressively has opened the door to many developmental success stories across all levels of baseball—like Helsley.

“Throwing more vigorously has been a product of getting stronger, and learning how to use my body better over the years,” Helsley told FOX Sports.

Growing up in eastern Oklahoma, Helsley hasn’t been to any of the notable fairs that feature flocks of high school students who have heaps of Division I scholarship offerings to choose from. Without these opportunities, he decided to stay close to home and play together at Northeastern State University’s Division II. After a solid summer in the California Collegiate League, Helsley hit 95 hitters in 63.2 innings as a freshman-eligible sophomore, establishing himself as one of the most interesting prospects in Division Two.

At the time, his Fastball sat in the low 90s, although the Cardinal liked his athleticism and thought there was more speed to tap into once he got into pro ball. St. Louis picked Helsley in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, and by the end of the summer, he was touching 98 mph.

As he climbed the minor league ladder, his speed continued to climb as well. The Cardinal was a college rookie, keeping him in the starting role until he was knocking on the door of the major tournaments in 2019. At that point, they decided to transfer him to bowling, hoping to increase the newfound heat in shorter. periods.

They were right. After solid spring training in 2019, Helsley made his MLB debut Milwaukee On April 16th. Christian Willich, Helsley settled down and hit four of the next seven hits, including blasting 101 mph past Eric Timms. Although bouncing back and forth between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis multiple times throughout the summer, Helsley finished a 2.95 ERA in 36.2 innings with the Cardinals as a starter, plus five additional goalless outings in the postseason.

Going from sitting 91-94 mph in a Division II school to throwing 100 mph at the big tournaments less than four years later was a huge victory for Helsey. But this is just the beginning. Throwing more aggressively is nice, but it’s not an automatic ticket to long-term success in MLB. There are a few bowlers in every establishment who are now able to touch triples, but only a portion of them develop into effective bowlers in the big league.

In the first few years of Helsley’s career, it was like a mixed bag, with stretches of excellence in his junior campaign in 2019, but there is a much bigger discrepancy in 2020 and 2021.

This year, Hillsley has taken a big leap. Here is his rank among qualified faithful:

0.98 ERA (first)

2.04 FIP (Seventh)

0.70 WHIP (sec)

40.1% write-off rate (sec)

.114 batting average against (first)

Strand rate 92.8% (fourth)

This impressive set of numbers goes up to 2.0 fWAR for Helsley, which ranks second among mitigators just behind them mets closer Edwin Diaz, going through one of the greatest rest seasons of all time. Nothing wrong with tracking it! Helsley was amazing.

Simply put, it seems that the biggest key to this hack may have been just getting healthy. He lost a month and a half in 2016 due to biceps tendinitis. He missed quite a bit of time with a shoulder problem in 2018 and 2019. Bad luck extended off the field in 2020, when he missed the entire month of August after testing positive for COVID-19. And in 2021, his season was cut short in August due to a stress reaction in his elbow and a knee injury that eventually required surgery.

This year, Helsley did not spend any time on the injured list.

“I think he’s always been in long-term pain for the past two years and focused on that part of the promotion and not promoting himself,” he explained. “Being able to get out there with a clear mind and the sole purpose of trying to get guys out, I think that has really helped me get better this year.”

Being healthy also helped Helseli reach new heights with his heater. Prior to this season, the hardest ground to throw in the major leagues was 101.5 mph, which actually debuted in 2019. This season, he’s thrown 44 stronger than 101.5 mph, including four during the All-Star Game when The fierce Fastball game was shown to the national audience:

Helsley has the unique experience of being one of the toughest bowlers on earth, but he’s definitely not the toughest bowler on his team. That’s thanks to fellow Bullpen and fellow 2015 recruits, Jordan Hickswho has been soaking his brand flashing radar guns since his MLB debut when he was 21 years old in 2018.

Hicks (246) and Hillsley (177) account for the vast majority of the 433-plus pitches by the Cardinals this season, by far the most of any team in MLB. For reference, only 10 other teams have bowlers who have thrown over 100 pitches over 100 miles per hour, with twins It comes in second behind St. Louis with a score of 362 (Thanks almost to John Doran). Two teams in the Cardinals division – Milwaukee and Pittsburgh – collected to cast zero, while six others ( as suchAnd the CubsAnd the red socksAnd the NoticeAnd the blue jays And the Diamondbacks) threw one step at over 100 mph each.

Hicks is also one of only two pitchers – the other Aroldis Chapman – To touch 105 mph in the statcast era. Although Hicks’ average draft of 99.4 is currently tied to that of four-string Helsley, Hicks holds the crown for the toughest pitch thrown in the MLB in 2022 at 103.8 mph. He recorded the best thunderbolt Helsley this season (and in his career) clocking 103.4 mph versus 103.4 mph. Cincinnati in July. He’s not sure he can rise much higher the way Hicks has been in the past.

“I don’t know if I could,” Helsley said. “We’re kidding a little bit about it. And I think we both know he’s obviously throwing a lot harder than me. He knows [more velocity] It’s still there somewhere because he’s done it before.”

His teammate might make him beat him hard, but Helsley has had a clear advantage in terms of results this season, earning him the closest role Hicks once had. And if we’ve learned anything from the dynamic Edwin Díaz/Timmy Trumpet duo in Queens, any closer high end deserves a closer entry song.

Just as Trevor Hoffman did for many years in San DiegoIn home matches, Helsley enters AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” – though it’s more of a game to his name than a Hall of Famer tribute with 601 saves. Helsley has been out on “Hells Bells” since the start of his career, but his dominance this season has prompted Busch’s stadium operations team to ramp up production:

As if the song and the fact that the bowler threw at 103 mph weren’t scary enough, that piercing red light now serves as the final warning to the opposing teams entering the final frame. It’s one thing to see against last place Citizens In early September. But if the Cardinals continue their way to the NL Central crown and take a deep ride into the post-season, Helsley’s entry should be one of October’s greatest sights.

Jordan Shusterman Half @CespedesBBQ and baseball writer for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.


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