Counting down the 20 most important Cardinals in 2023: #19 Jordan Hicks
Why Jordan Hicks is important for St. Louis in 2023
So far this spring, Hicks has continued to struggle with his command and has looked really bad, posting a 10.13 ERA in 2.2 innings while giving up 4 hits and 3 walks while striking out 2 batters. While it is just Spring Training, it's concerning that his struggles from 2022 have seemed to progress even further at this point in the Cardinals' camp.
Still, the club remains committed to seeing what Hicks can do for them this season, and rightfully so. The now 26-year-old's leash won't be as long as it has been in past seasons, but the club needs to see if Hicks can capitalize on the upside that he flashes every time he is on the mound. At this moment, Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos are the two most reliable right-handed relievers in the Cardinals bullpen, and a consistent Hicks would make them a dangerous trio.
Thus far in camp, Hicks has relied heavily on his sinker/slider mix, something that has shown to be extremely effective in today's game and could be elite coming out of the hand of Hicks with how electric his stuff is. For some reason though, Hicks has not been able to produce the elite-level swing and miss you would expect from someone. Kareem (@KareemSSN on Twitter) is an excellent follow in the Cardinals community and noticed that Hicks has made a change to the kind of slider he throws, which may end up helping him capitalize on his talent this season.
Hicks' new slider is tighter and should tunnel significantly better with his sinker that we all love to watch him throw. If you're unfamiliar with pitch tunneling, a simple explanation is it's a strategy the best pitchers in today's game use to throw off hitters. They look to "tunnel" their pitches in a way that, out of their hand, it's extremely hard to tell what kind of pitch they are throwing, and it looks so similar that by the time you're reacting, you might have a high-velocity sinker moving in on you, or a slider breaking the other direction (here's a full explanation from MLB Network if you want to learn more).
If Hicks can establish a good tunnel for his pitches, he'll have batters shaking their head each time they face him as it will be so hard to keep up with his speed and movement in different directions. But as I said before, Hicks won't have an entire season to prove this, and if he struggles again, the Cardinals will need to turn to other options.
Hicks is not only important to St. Louis this season because of the potential he brings to have three elite level right-handed relievers in their bullpen, but the club also suffers a lot if he cannot figure things out. The club does have a lot of intriguing options that could factor into their bullpen this year, but they really do lack that third reliable option right now. If Hicks can't be that, the club may stumble throughout the season, especially on days when Helsley or Gallegos needs rest.
Great clubs need great bullpens. It hurts during the season if your team is consistently blowing games when you're making a push for a division crown or playoff seeding, and it matters even more in the playoffs when games matter even more and bullpens are leaned on heavily. Especially when your rotation is a weakness like St. Louis.
How important do you think Jordan Hicks will be to the Cardinals' success in 2023? Would you have him higher or lower on this list? Let us know in the comments and keep checking back in each day as we rank the most important Cardinals heading into the 2023 season.