Jordan Hicks: a Cardinal Super-Reliever in the Making

In all of 2018, there were 44 pitches that were clocked at a speed higher than 103.0 mph. Precisely 34 of those pitches were thrown by Cardinals right-handed reliever Jordan Hicks. That’s more than 75%. Hicks also threw the fastest pitch of the 2018 season — 105.1 mph (per Statcast | MLB.com) — and tied Aroldis Chapman for the fastest pitch of the Statcast era (2015-19).

Photo: Hannah Foslien (Getty Images)

Jordan Hicks, remarkably only twenty-two years old, is a genuinely special pitcher who is unique in a multitude of ways beyond the fact that he’s a flamethrower. For one, he induces grounds ball at a ridiculous rate — 60.7% (per FanGraphs) in 2018 (which ranked as the 10th highest among relievers who threw at least 40 innings). Another trait Hicks possesses is the ability to limit the long ball — 0.23 HR/9 in 2018 (which ranked as the 5th lowest among relievers who threw at least 40 innings). Perhaps most intriguing of all, Hicks racked up very few whiffs relative to what you’d expect from a reliever who throws 100+ mph with regularity…

2018 K/9: 8.11 (135th out of 210 relievers who threw at least 40 innings; 35.7 percentile)

2018 SwStr%: 9.4 (160th out of 210 relieves who threw at least 40 innings; 23.8 percentile)

  • 2018 Sinker SwStr%: 6.6
  • 2018 Slider SwStr%: 19.8

But that has seemingly changed in the early goings of the 2019 campaign (5 G; 5.2 IP)…

2019 K/9: 12.71

2019 SwStr%: 16.7

  • 2019 Sinker SwStr%: 8.0
  • 2019 Slider SwStr%: 28.6

Hicks’ command is still undoubtedly a work in progress (2018 BB/9: 5.21; 2019 BB/9: 4.76), but the fact that he generates tons of movement on his pitches and throws so hard helps makes it less of an issue.

Here are a few probable reasons (all three of which likely contribute to his increase in strikeouts) as to why Jordan Hicks has been able to coax more whiffs in 2019…

1. New Pitch Mix (per Pitch Info Pitch Type)

2018 Sinker%: 72.0

2018 Slider%: 21.8

V.S.

2019 Sinker%: 55.6 (-16.4)

2019 Slider%: 38.9 (+17.1)

As we outlined earlier, the slider is Hicks’ swing and miss pitch, and the sinker is the pitch Hicks relies on to get GBs (2018 Sinker GB%: 65.6; 2018 Slider GB%: 41.4). By increasing his slider usage (in place of the sinker), Jordan has been able to get more whiffs; consequently, he has generated slightly fewer ground balls (54.5%) in 2019 (because he is throwing fewer sinkers).

2. New Horizontal Release Point

Graph via Brooks Baseball
2019 release point (picture from a video courtesy of Baseball Savant)
2018 release point (picture from a video courtesy of Baseball Savant)

3. More Horizontal Movement on Slider

Graph via Brooks Baseball

Those two red dots furthest right represent the horizontal movement of his slider in the months of March (furthest right) and April. More horizontal movement on his slider has surely made the pitch more effective (19.8 SwStr% in 2018 vs 28.6 SwStr% in 2019).

Jordan Hicks is an extraordinary pitcher who definitely has the potential to become a super reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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