Despite not seeing him for about a year and a half at this point, St. Louis flamethrower Jordan Hicks should be in the thick of a heated competition for the closing role for the Cardinals. His last competitive pitch came in the middle of June in the 2019 season. He underwent Tommy John surgery, and then had a setback in his recovery. He also opted out of the 2020 season due to being a high-risk individual. His velocity was down in his first spring outing, but that was to be expected. Oh, and by “down,” I mean that he was topping out at 99 miles per hour, instead of being 100+ like he usually is. At this point in the spring, it’s really about increasing confidence and displaying good health in that electric arm of his.
Last time we saw Hicks, which again was the 2019 season, he went 14-for-15 on save chances and posted a 3.14 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 2.82 K/BB ratio. His 28.2 - percent strikeout rate is lower than one might expect, given his electric arsenal and overpowering heater. He switched his repertoire a bit, which helped with the strikeouts. He started throwing his slider more, and the whiff rate on that pitch jumped six - percentage points up to a whopping 57.8 - percent.
Furthermore, after the 2018 season, he scrapped his four-seam fastball and added in a changeup. Opponents didn’t hit it, and it generated a high number of whiffs, but his overall command with that pitch was a bit erratic to say the least.
However, he minimized hard contact, and his average launch angle that season was -2.4 degrees, which was an improvement upon an already solid 1.1 degree mark he posted in 2018.
Hicks will strike out a good chunk of batters, but when he does allow contact, it’s primarily on the ground. For his career, he’s posted a 62.3 - percent ground ball rate, which is excellent. In fact, outside an abnormal 18.2 - percent HR/FB rate in 2019, home runs haven’t been a problem for Hicks. Between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, there were 316 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings, courtesy of FanGraphs.
- Only four pitchers have matched or exceeded Hicks’ 62.3 - percent ground ball rate.
- He’s the only pitcher to have a ground ball rate of at least 62 - percent, and a strikeout rate of at least 22 - percent.
- Luke Jackson posted a strikeout rate of 30.5 - percent, and a ground ball rate of 55.5 - percent. He’s the only pitcher, other than Hicks, to be above a 22 - percent strikeout rate and 55 - percent ground ball rate.
- To remind you, Hicks is at 22.5 - percent and 62.3 - percent, respectively.
Fly ball pitchers tend to make managers, both in reality and fantasy, hold their breath, since one swing can be the difference of winning and losing. Hicks, a ground ball extremist, along with his ability to miss bats, is the ideal ninth inning guy.
He entered spring in a competition for the job, primarily with Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes. Well, the latter will operate in a high leverage reliever, potentially hybrid-role, and the team has set a cap of around 100 innings for Reyes. That helps Hicks a lot, assuming this means that Reyes will likely operate in potential multi-inning outings. However, Gallegos and even Andrew Miller are around, so this situation might remain fluid for longer than some fantasy owners would like.
While Hicks continues to work back from a significant absence from the bump, Giovanny Gallegos might be the safe play for saves in the back end of the Cardinals pen. He did fine as the team’s closer last year. However, if healthy and performing, it seems like St. Louis wants Hicks to be the team’s closer.
It’s hard to project Hicks in terms of saves, given the wealth of variables, but I can safely say this. By season’s end, health willing, he will have notched a new career high in strikeout - percentage, while continuing to induce a healthy number of grounders thanks to a demoralizing sinking fastball.
There’s a lot of mouths in that St. Louis pen, and while Hicks should emerge as the guy at some point, again, health willing, there are a lot of arms in the pen that the team likely feels confident in. Fluidity in the back end may work in reality, but it’s a pain in the you know what for fantasy.