Last week, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan's initial report, the San Francisco Giants signed pitcher Jordan Hicks to a four-year, $44 million contract. Passan added something significant to that news. The Giants plan to make Hicks a starter.
According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Hicks can earn another $2 million in annual incentives starting at 100 innings pitched. In need of starting pitching, the Giants are taking a shot that Hicks can help.
Hicks, of course, spent most of his time with the St. Louis Cardinals, and the portion of last season he spent with the Toronto Blue Jays, as a reliever. He did make eight starts for St. Louis in 2022, including seven appearances in a row. The results were not good, as he allowed 16 runs over 24.2 innings in those seven outings (5.84 ERA), and he went more than four innings just once. He had a 5.47 ERA in his eight total starts, with 21 walks over 26.1 innings.
The headline with Hicks is his velocity. Last season, he averaged 100 MPH on both his four-seam fastball (100.3 MPH and his sinker (100.1 MPH). He added a sweeper last year, to go with a lesser-used slider and changeup. That arsenal does suggest he can start; he was a starter in the minors and he has previously professed a desire to start.
Fantasy Baseball Impact: Jordan Hicks to start for the Giants?
The move from reliever to starter naturally comes with an uptick in workload. Hicks threw 65.2 innings last year, topping 60 inning for the third time in his career. It's worth noting he had Tommy John surgery in 2019, he opted out of the shortened 2020 season, he missed most of 2021 with elbow inflammation and he had two stints on the IL in 2022 (forearm strain, arm fatigue). So what that uptick in work will look like is unknown.
For all the great metrics Hicks has, on and below the surface, his walk rate is a concern. Last year, he walked 11.2 percent of the batters he faced (4.4 BB/9). On the plus side, he generates tons of ground balls (58.9 percent last year; 96th percentile) and misses enough bats (28.2 percent whiff rate and a 28.4 percent strikeout rate last year) to offset some of those command issues.
The Giants have only "committed" to giving Hicks an opportunity to start. If it's not working, he can just go back to the bullpen and fill an important role there. "Starting" could simply involve Hicks functioning as an opener, and at least early in the season, his innings and pitch counts could be capped -- even if he fully stretches out as a starter during spring training.
A 200-plus inning starting pitcher is a dying breed, in real life and fantasy baseball. It's unrealistic to think Hicks will make 30 or more starts this year, even if he sticks in the role all season. More innings for Hicks this year is a promising development, but the driving force for his fantasy value will be strikeouts and overall ratios more than anything driven by innings volume.
As late-round fantasy draft fliers go on the pitching front, with the idea he'll add starter eligibility, Hicks is a little more interesting with the prospect he'll be a starter. Reports out of spring training will be worth watching heading into the teeth of draft season.