Greetings. I’m back with another report on an individual Cardinal player, his 2022 season, and what it could tell us about 2023.
NEXT UP: Jordan Hicks: After taking a closer look, and reopening my mind to evaluate his work as a reliever in 2022, I have to say Hicks did a better job than I initially believed. Hicks had a 4.37 ERA in his 35 innings as a reliever after a failed and foolish attempt to make him a starter. I’ll explain the 4.37 ERA in a minute. It wasn’t as lousy as it seems.
EXPERIMENT, CRASHED: In eight starts last season Hicks walked 21 batters in 26 innings, had a hideous walk rate of 17.5 percent, struck out only 20.8%, allowed a .745 OPS, and was punished for a 5.47 ERA. There’s more ugly stuff, but you get the point. And I find it difficult to rip Hicks as a starter because he isn’t in charge and he didn’t make the decision to move from the bullpen to the rotation. The front office wanted to do it, and manager Oli Marmol went along with the plan.
QUALITY RELIEF: Obviously a 4.37 ERA is no reason for excitement, but there’s some good stuff underneath that. As a reliever Hicks held batters to a .208 average, .294 onbase percentage and .296 slugging percentage. His 99 mph sinker generated a 58 percent ground-ball rate. His strikeout rate as a reliever (26.6%) was the second-highest of a career that began in 2018. His fielding independent ERA (FIP) as a reliever was a more representative 3.06. And his Win Probability Added was as a reliever was 0.96, his best in a big-league season as a relief pitcher.
OTHER RELIEF-PITCHING POSITIVES: Hicks ranked among the top 1 percent of MLB pitchers in fastball velocity, was in the top 11 percent for lowest hard-hit rate, and was in the top 18% for lowest expected slugging percentage.
Hicks the reliever was mostly impressive when pitching with runners in scoring position, allowing a .184 average, .487 OPS, and striking out hitters at a rate of 34 percent. In high-leverage situations he held hitters to a .211 average and .484 OPS. But in both scenarios, walks were an issue. To his credit Hicks allowed 24 percent of inherited runners to score, which was well above the MLB average of 34% of inherited runners scoring against relievers in 2022.
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE: Inconsistency was an issue with his relief work. Too many of his first hitters faced in an inning reached base. As a reliever Hicks averaged 21 pitches per game — too many. That also explains why Hicks the reliever walked 9.8 percent of batters faced last season. Though still too high, that walk percentage was an improvement over his career 12.6% rate through 2021. Another problem for Hicks: when he came out of the bullpen to pitch to LH batters last season, they got to him for a .514 slug. And his strikeout rate was a pedestrian 20% against LH hitters.
THE SLIDER: My goodness, what a killer pitch. In 89 plate appearances last season that ended with Hicks throwing his slider, he allowed a .122 batting average, an expected slugging percentage of .212, and drilled a strikeout rate of 52.8% – striking out 47 of 89 hitters with the nasty pitch.
SYMMETRY: In 2022, Hicks retired 62 hitters on strikeouts, and retired 62 hitters on ground-ball outs.
THE TROUBLE WITH WALKS: Whether he was starting or relieving, Hicks walked 35 hitters last season. And 34 percent — 12 of 35 — came around to score.
PERSPECTIVE: For 2023, Hicks must cut down on the walks to shape a better strikeout-walk rate – and to lower his average of walks-hits per inning. In fairness to Hicks, he had surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament in the summer of 2019, didn’t pitch at all during the Covid-19 year (2020), and worked only 10 innings in 2021. When we consider the lengthy interruption to his career, his performance as a reliever in 2022 merits praise. After reestablishing his career in ‘22, Hicks seemingly is set up for a strong 2023. It might help him to develop a changeup to mess with hitters that are expecting his heated velocity. Hicks still must sharpen up, but he’ll be part of a formidable late-game bullpen brigade along with Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos. And perhaps young Zack Thompson or another lefty to be added later.
His 2022 grade as a starter: D minus.
His 2022 grade as a reliever: B minus
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.