Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat. Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them. The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable. Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.
Player: Jordan Hicks
Season stats: 3-4, 6 SV, 3.59 ERA, 73 G, 77.2 IP, 59 H, 2 HR, 45 BB, 70 K, 3.74 FIP, 1.339 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 0.3 bWAR
Hero/Goat: Hero 2, Goat 6
Overall grade: A
Positives: Added late to spring training, three scoreless innings against the Nationals and Hicks was elevated from Single A to the majors, making the Opening Day roster….remarkably, stayed in the majors all year long and was one of the few Cardinals to be on the active roster every day of the season….reached 105 mph on a pitch twice against the Phillies (in the same at bat against Odubel Herrera) and recorded eight of the top 11 fastest pitches in MLB last season….didn’t allow an earned run until his 10th appearance….right-handers hit just .150 against him….had a 2.08 ERA away from Busch Stadium….posted a 1.26 ERA his first month in the majors….fourth-place hitters had a .562 OPS against him….batters had a .495 OPS when they swung at the first pitch….when they hit the first pitch the batting average was .237….batters hit .162 when he was ahead in the count…batters had a .429 OPS with two outs in an inning….allowed a .509 OPS with runners in scoring position….with two outs, that RISP OPS went to .468….in 16 plate appearances after his first 25 pitches, batters with 0-13 with two walks….had a .496 OPS when pitched with zero days’ rest….the Cubs hit .129 against him, though did ding him for one of his two home runs.
Negatives: For all the speed, wasn’t quite able to rack up a lot of strikeouts….had less than a two K/BB ratio….gave up runs in three of his last four outings, posting a 14.73 ERA in that span….lefties hit both of the home runs he allowed and put up a .715 OPS against him….had a 5.12 ERA at Busch….actually walked more (31) than he struck out (26) at home as well, which is a really weird thing given he struck out 44 and walked 14 on the road….had a 6.97 ERA in September, in large part due to that last stretch….in his four losses, gave up a .474/.565/.632 slash line….first place hitters in the lineup had a 1.041 OPS against him….batters had an .880 OPS when ahead in the count….on two or three days’ rest, his ERA was over 5.00….had a 4.00 ERA in nine innings against the Cubs….it was his fastball (fouled off by Kris Bryant) that took out Yadier Molina for a month.
Overview: Jordan Hicks was a remarkable story. His year by being dismissed from early spring training, only to see him get a shot the last weekend of spring and dominate. Molina stepped up and asked to be given control of the sports car and the front office acquiesced. Hicks then became a phenomenon and somehow, at 21 years old, never returned to the minor leagues even when roster issues required others to be demoted. Hicks was a rock in the bullpen for much of the season, teaming with Bud Norris to give the Cardinals a solid eighth-ninth combo. Of course, his relationship with Norris (as documented by Mark Saxon in The Athletic in early July) may have been one of the final straws in Mike Matheny‘s coffin, but that’s another story.
Hicks has to work on making his full arsenal viable (something Joe Schwarz had some thoughts on here). For the fact that he could throw smoke, his strikeout rates were pretty pedestrian and major league batters started to realize that the command just wasn’t there. It’s also not surprising that he struggled in September, given that he had never thrown that much in a season before. Still, without Hicks, it seems unlikely the Cardinals could have challenged for a playoff spot all the way down to the final week of the year.
Outlook: Hicks is likely never to return to the starting rotation now that his late inning dominance has been established. In fact, the Cardinals are considering using him as their closer in 2019, though it feels more likely that they’ll at least bring in some sort of veteran that can close to challenge him for the role and take some save situations themselves. No matter when he pitches, if he can get a little more deception, a little more command, his stuff could shut down a lot of doors.