How Cardinals’ Ryan Helsley moved from D2 to one of MLB’s best goalkeepers

by Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

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

Only six jugs – Johan Doran (which is driving the road at 100.7 mph), Aroldis ChapmanAndres Muñoz Emmanuel ClassAnd the Prosdar Graterol And the Jose Alvarado – He boasts an average speedball (four layers or weight) that is higher than the 28-year-old’s right-handed speed (99.4) in the midst of a breakout season for the number one Cardinal. 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 upsurge in velocity 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:

It’s not about these guys, though – it’s about the rest of the population, who now theoretically have access to tools that can unlock a higher speed ceiling for themselves. 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 those opportunities, he decided to stay close to home and play teamwork at Northeastern State University’s second division. After a solid summer in the California Collegiate League, Helsley hit 95 hitters in 63.2 innings as a sophomore eligible for enlistment, establishing himself as one of the most interesting prospects in all of the second division. 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 in Milwaukee on April 16. After letting him run home to the first hit he faced at Christian Yelich, Helsley settled down and hit four of the next seven hits, including a 101 MPH hit 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 at a Division-II school to throwing 100 mph at the major tournaments less than four years later was a huge victory for Hulsley. 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 organization now capable of touching triple digits, but only a small portion of them develop into legitimately effective big league bowlers. 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 (second)

40.1% write-off rate (second)

.114 multiplication rate vs. (1)

Strand rate 92.8% (fourth)

This impressive set of numbers hits 2.0 fWAR for Helsley, which ranks second among loyalists behind only Edwin Diaz, who is currently experiencing one of all-time great rest seasons. Nothing wrong with tracking it! Helsley was amazing.

It simply seems that the biggest key to this breakthrough may have been just getting healthy. Helsley missed 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, he didn’t spend any time on the injured list. “I think he’s always been in long-term pain for the past couple of years and is focusing on that part of the promotion rather than promoting himself,” explained Helsley. “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, Hillsley’s hardest ground throw in the major leagues was 101.5 mph, which actually debuted in 2019. This season, he’s thrown 44 hardest throws at 101.5 mph, including four during the All-Star Game When the fierce Fastball 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 Draftee Jordan Hicks, who has been soaking his brand flashing radar guns since his MLB debut when he was 21-years-old in 2018. Hicks (246) and Helsley (177) account for the vast majority of the 433 pitches over 100 mph thrown by this Cardinal pitchers. season, which is by far the biggest team in MLB. For reference, only 10 other teams threw over 100 pitches at 100+ MPH, with twins It comes in second behind St. Louis with a score of 362 (a big thank you to Joanne Duran). Two teams in the Cardinal Division—Milwaukee and Pittsburgh—came together to cast the zero, while six others (Team A, CubsAnd the red socksAnd the NoticeAnd the blue jays And the Diamondbacks) only threw one out of the field at 100+ mph each.

Hicks is also one of two shooters along with Aroldis Chapman to touch 105 MPH in the Statcast Era. Although Hicks’s average draft of 99.4 is currently tied to that of four-string Helsley, Hicks currently holds the title of hardest pitch thrown in MLB in 2022 at 103.8 mph. Helsley’s best thunderbolt record of the season (and his career) clocked in at 103.4 mph against Cincinnati in July, although he’s not sure he can climb much higher as Hicks has 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 Halsley had a clear advantage in terms of results this year, earning him the closest role Hicks has come in again in 2019. And if we learn anything from the dynamic Edwin Diaz/Timmy Trumpet duo in Queens, what end? Higher Closer deserves a closer entry song. Just as Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman did for many years in San Diego, Helsley entered the home games for AC/DC’s “Hells Bells”—albeit a play to his name more than a Hall of Famer honored with 601 passes. Helsley has been out on “Hells Bells” since the beginning of his career, but his dominance this season has prompted Busch’s stadium operations team to ramp up production even further:

As if the song and the fact that the bowler comes in throws at 103 mph wasn’t scary enough, the piercing red lighting is now a 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 on their way to claiming the NL Central crown and the chance to host some post-season matches, then Helsley’s entry should be one of the greatest events of October.

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


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