San Francisco Giants: Jordan Hicks, genuine article

We’re a few weeks into the new season and the San Francisco Giants have gotten off to an inauspicious start. The stench of 2023 still lingers in the dugout, despite a new manager and many new faces on the 40-man roster. It’s fair to say things haven’t entirely clicked yet for the Giants. However, there’s one man seemingly untouched by the malaise, who has undoubtedly made a great first impression: step forward Jordan Hicks.

Hicks, signed by the Giants to a four-year, $44 million contract in the winter, enjoyed a successful five-year stint as a relief pitcher with the Cardinals and Blue Jays (for a short, post-trade spell). The Giants persuaded Hicks to make Oracle Park his new home but not as a reliever; he was announced as a new member of the rotation, news that was revealed to be a key part of the deal and came as a surprise to many.

A large part of Hicks’ decision to join the Giants revolved around this opportunity to pitch as a starter, a path that was quickly snuffed out in St Louis, when Hicks was given a trial period of just 8 starts in 2022. The Cardinals felt the experiment in the rotation wasn’t as beneficial as Hicks throwing 100-mph heaters out of the bullpen, and swiftly moved him back to a relief role.

Despite success in relief, the determination to be a starter never left Hicks, and he has embraced his spot in the rotation superbly since joining San Francisco. In his first four starts Hicks has shown he can handle a starter’s workload and has adapted well to the new routine and rhythm that comes with being in the rotation. So far, Hicks has shown himself to be one of the Giants’ top performers.

Over his first four starts, Hicks has an impressive 1.57 ERA through 23 innings of work, with 18 strikeouts and 6 walks. It’s a small sample size, of course, but a very encouraging start to Hicks’ time in the Bay Area.

Known for being a pure flamethrower as a reliever, capable of reaching 105-mph on the radar gun, Hicks has adjusted to life as a starter by dialling down the heat to help boost his efficiency. Per Baseball Savant, Hicks’ primary pitch has been his devastating sinker, which he throws 57% of the time, and still clocks in at a lightning-fast 96-mph. Hicks pairs a nasty sweeper (22%) and a splitter (15%) as his off-speed stuff to keep hitters unsettled. The splitter is particularly successful, generating a 46.7% whiff rate.

If the strikeout numbers seem a little lower than you’d expect from a pitcher of Hicks’ calibre, that is understandable. There was a feeling among Giants fans that when you acquire a pitcher famous for throwing over 100-mph, the strikeouts would be plentiful. Hicks records good-not-gaudy strikeout numbers but has been tremendously effective at generating groundballs: his sinker is regularly pounded into the ground by the opposition and patiently collected by the elite duo of Matt Chapman and Nick Ahmed. When the Giants possess a pair of Platinum and Glove Glove winners on the left side of their infield, it will significantly help your pitching staff, and Hicks is already reaping the benefits.

The true test of Hicks’ success as a starter will be how he manages his innings throughout the year and how he endures fatigue. Can he continue to perform this well deep into the summer and how will he be holding up by September? The 27-year-old has never thrown more than 77.2 innings in his MLB career, and that career-high was set all the way back in 2018, his rookie season. Pitching every fifth day and throwing 80-100 pitches will take its toll but Hicks will be optimistic that with the right program and preparation, he can toe the rubber each week and be an asset to the Giants.

Right now, Hicks is proving himself to be a huge asset, one of the most reliable arms manager Bob Melvin can turn to.

Logan Webb is back to being the ace of the staff but behind him there are question marks: Blake Snell is the living embodiment of just how important preseason truly is; the reigning NL Cy Young winner missed all of Spring Training waiting to sign with a team and his absence from a major-league camp appears to have hindered him. With time, he should find his form and be back to his usual self. Until then, the Giants will turn to young left-hander Kyle Harrison, who has enjoyed a positive start to 2024, throwing at least 6 innings in three of his four starts. Keaton Winn has stepped up admirably as the fifth starter but was lumped with the loss in all three of his starts, and cannot be expected to carry the load.

Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray, both key veteran starters, are working their way back from injury, but until they return the Giants rotation will rely heavily on Hicks to perform. The club will hope he can continue pitching at the high level he has displayed so far, especially with the offensive problems the lineup have experienced these first few weeks.

No one could have predicted a reliever-turned-starter would be such a key piece in the Giants’ early season fortunes, and yet, Hicks has made himself indispensable in a short space of time. 

Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on X (Twitter) @AshDay29

Photo credit for featured image by Rich Storry/Getty Images.

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