St. Louis Cardinals: Jordan Hicks has evolved into a Bonafide Closer
St. Louis Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks may only be in his second big league season, but he’s quickly proving himself to be one of the best closers in baseball. And the secret was not throwing harder or faster. Instead, Hicks made his big jump by learning to pitch smarter.
Baseball has been enamored with the speed for some time now. Since first being introduced in the 1960s, the radar gun has been a fixture of Major League Baseball. One of the most cited measurements of a pitcher is how hard (speed) a guy throws, and the St. Louis Cardinals have taken this to heart.
St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks has been lighting up radar guns since he first arrived on the scene. Taken in 2015 Amateur Draft, Hick spent two seasons in the Cardinals minor league systems turning heads and caulking up whiffs. Last season he made his MLB debut and the hometown fans instantly took to the young flame throwing right hander.
But the most important growth in his young career came for Jordan Hicks during this past offseason. Hicks adapted his approach to make himself something more than just a hard throwing reliever. Sure Hicks is still lighting up the radar gun in 2019, but more importantly, he’s transformed into one of the game’s best closers.
So how did Hicks make the big jump?
He began to lean on a weapon even better than his blistering fastball/sinker.
While it’s still early in the season, the numbers show Hicks has exceeded the club’s expectations in his first season as the unquestioned closer. The trio of Hicks, John Brebbia, and John Gant has been playing like a three headed monster to be feared, and Hicks is at the forefront.
Of course, it should come as no surprise to Cardinals fans that Hicks leads MLB is average velocity. His intense heat is what got him here, and he currently sits as the only pitcher in 2019 with an average pitch velocity above 100 mph on a pitch.
But it’s not just the speed that has been the key to his success. Hicks had this same speed last year, but a lack of control lead to high walk rates and surprisingly low strikeout rates, with some batters even able to catch up to the single speed Hicks.
In 2019 Hicks has shown more balance. His rate of sinkers thrown has dropped from 72% to 58.1%, while his slider rate rose to 36.3%.
A closer look shows Hicks is using his three pitches with varying speeds.
The real difference this year has been his command and confidence with his slider. The change in speeds and overall appearance in the break of the pitch makes it a deadly offset to Hicks elite fastball, but Hicks inability to throw the pitch in the zone last season made it essentially a non factor.
With the slider reigned in, it has become a punch out machine in its own right. Hicks caused 12 whiffs with his slider in April, as opposed to just 5 with the sinker, and both the swing percentage and whiff percentage have risen significantly on Hicks slider.
This has given Hicks the ability to go to the slider more consistently, and it has been very noticeable.
The table above illustrates the percentage by usage of each pitch thrown by Hicks. He’s using the slider 2x more this season than he did last year.
And the slider that Hicks is throwing has nasty movement. Hicks has shown he can throw it both in and out of the strike zone. When that pitch used off of the fastest sinker in MLB, the St. Louis Cardinals young closer is just about impossible to hit.
Sure, Hicks is still growing into his new role as closer. But with so many ups-and-downs in the early season for the Cardinals, it’s nice to know a 9th inning lead is safe.