The Cardinals remained patient with Jordan Hicks and he's turned into arguably their best reliever
If you were like many within the St. Louis Cardinals fan base just a month ago, you may have been ready to see Jordan Hicks' time with the organization end, or at least see a stint in Memphis if he was going to remain. At the end of May though, Hicks has become an indispensable part of the Cardinals' bullpen.
After his horrendous start of the season, which saw him post a 6.35 ERA with a 2.21 WHIP in his 12 games of work, Hicks has completely flipped the script in May, posting a 2.38 ERA in 9 games with a 0.88 WHIP over that time frame. It's getting even better as of late too, as he hasn't allowed a run in his last 9 innings of work.
If you look at his Baseball Savant page as well, Hicks' underlying numberes look about as good as anyone in the game today. He ranks in the 88th percentile or higher in strikeout percentage, fastball velocity, expected batting average, whiff percentage, barrel percentage, expected slugging percentage, and average exit velocity.
So what has contributed to Jordan Hicks' newfound success?
If you look at the pitches that Hicks has thrown each month, you'll see some real changes that Hicks has made that seemed to be contributing to his success. During the month of May, Hicks has stopped throwing his changeup and dramatically decreased his four-seam fastball and slider usage, and has really leaned on his sinker and sweeper to get outs.
During May, his sinker spin rate has increase by over 100 RPM, and he has seen great results with it. Opposing hitters have a .100 BA and .100 SLG against his sinker in May, a dramatic improvement from the .393 BA and .679 SLG hitters had against it in May. His sweeper has produced a 41.7% whiff percentage, which is actually lower than his slider and sweeper from April but is has been a put away pitch for him 38.5% of the time.
You may have noticed recently that Hicks has gotten more opportunities in higher leverage spots, and I think that should only increase unless he begins to regress back to what he looked like in April. Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, and Ryan Helsley give the Cardinals a nasty trio at the backend of their bullpen, and having the three of them be interchangeable for the 8th and 9th innings, or high leverage spots when the game has a change to turn the other way, is in the Cardinals best interest.
The Cardinals can shorten games rather easily when deploying all three in a given game, which could be their tactic in starts that they do not get length from, but probably the better tactic would be to utilize two of the three in competitive games, allowing the third to rest and be fresh for the next two days of outings.
Keep an eye on Hicks over the next few weeks. His rebound over the the last month has the potential to raise the Cardinals' ceiling as a team, much like how Miles Mikolas has as of late.