Brain Fog: Jordan Hicks deserves another shot at Starting Pitching
By Mason Keith
Welcome back to my series Brain Fog, where I will be making outlandish takes about St. Louis Cardinals and trying to back them up with reasoning and logic. Anything can happen in baseball, so why not take that approach with fun scenarios that no one will entertain? Let me take the time to entertain you.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in a dilemma. On paper, the pitching staff should be a top 5-10 staff in all of Major League Baseball. But injuries and future uncertainty have led to roll-of-the-dice decisions. Jack Flaherty is on year four of trying to recapture the 2019 magic, Steven Matz is out to prove he is worth his four-year contract, and Mikolas, Montgomery, and Wainwright are all up on their contracts after 2023. With Waino’s recent injury, Jake Woodford is set to take over the rotation slot going into Opening Day. He rightfully deserves it after an impressive spring and fans are looking forward to his work volume going forward.
But what if the Cardinals went an alternative route to fill the void? MLB has made several rule changes going into 2023, with one being the pitch clock. Batters have to get ready quicker and pitchers are pacing the game much faster. The Cardinals have a pitcher suitable for this new style of the game and they need to reconsider his role with the team. Jordan Hicks needs to be in the Starting Rotation.
Many of you will be yelling in the comments: “DID YOU NOT SEE THE FAILURE OF HICKS AS A STARTER!?”. The answer is yes, yes I did. Hicks was rushed into the role after the Cardinals got desperate with their starting pitching depth in 2022 (sounds familiar). The location has always been an issue with Hicks and it really showed with his 7.0 BB/9. But that will also happen when you only have the training and preparation as a reliever. Hicks was also coming back from TMJ surgery. So what makes this a smart idea???
The pitch clock. This changes everything. Jordan Hicks will not have to wait for the batter to adjust his gloves or have the catcher shake off calls. 15 seconds is now his preparation. Little to no time to think about location or execution. He gets the ball, receives the pitchcom call, comes set, and lets that 103-sinker fly. Pitching as simple as following the same routine that is out of your control might be what it takes to give Jordan Hicks control over his pitches. And as a batter……how do you prepare when 103-106 MPH is being pumped at you every 15 seconds? On top of a wipeout slider?
I believe this will also lead to his chase rate and whiff rate looking better. Those have been his major issues according to his Baseball Savant page. The disadvantage to the hitters not having time to prepare for his pitches will be his advantage in generating more swing and miss. And according to the Cardinals fanbase, we are sorely lacking swing-and-miss pitching. The one area I am looking at the most is the spin rate. It will have to majorly improve if he wants to pitch multiple innings.
So what is a realistic innings requirement for Hicks to make this work? With the depth the team has now, you will not have to rely heavily on Hicks to pitch most of the games. Mixing him in with the current projected starting five will keep arms fresh and will give Hicks more PA to further develop as a starter. I think 20 starts is a fair assumption with 5 innings being the cap. Waino will eventually be back to take his spot but he is showing that age 41 will catch up to you. So why not split the starts up between the two?
Is this the worst idea you've ever heard? Maybe. Is this idea one of the most creative ways the Cardinals can utilize their pitching depth? Maybe. This is for all of you to decide. I am just proposing an idea that makes you think outside the box. Thank you for reading my Brain Fog.