Giants sign Jordan Hicks to 4-year deal, but is he a starter now?

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

Right-hander Jordan Hicks has signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, with each season containing a $2 million bonus based on workload. Seems like a standard deal; Hicks has historically been a reliable high-leverage bullpen arm, including some cameos as a closer.

But wait, there's more. ESPN's Jeff Passan initially reported that the Giants intend to make Hicks a starter, commensurate with his wishes from a few years back. That notion has yet to be denied by any reporting from the Giants' side of things.

SF Giants sign Jordan Hicks to be a starting pitcher

Way back in 2022, the St. Louis Cardinals, Hicks' original team, tried this same tactic. In eight games as a starter, Hicks pitched 26.1 innings with a 5.47 ERA and .343 wOBA. Not the best work, but also could be brushed aside by a tiny sample size. Historically, starting pitchers haven't been able to control three pitches effectively, unless their name is Jacob deGrom. For deGrom, two pitches make up nearly 90 percent of his arsenal, but those are two of the best individual pitches in baseball. Hicks possesses two elite offerings in his four-seam and slider, checking in with 139 and 156 Stuff+ ratings, respectively.

Splitting time with both the Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays after a midseason trade, Hicks was fantastic out of the bullpen in 2023. Specifically in his time employed north of the border, Hicks pitched to a 2.63 ERA, striking out 22 in 24.0 innings while walking just eight. While the strikeout numbers dipped a bit after the trade, Hicks showcased better commmand in Toronto.

Hicks introduced a changeup in 2019, and while the pitch garners lofty Stuff+ grades, it has never been thrown more than 5.5 percent of the time. Batters have gone 1 for 17 in at-bats finished by a changeup in that time.

Out of the bullpen, Hicks is one of the better late-inning weapons in the league, with a 3.65 career ERA in relief. Hicks' sinker-slider combo generates a 60.9 percent groundball rate, more than 15 percent above the major league average. Here is another hiccup in the Hicks experiment. The San Francisco Giants ranked last in fielding percentage in 2023.

So, why would the Giants want to make a starter out of Hicks? Well, even if he is unable to stick in the rotation, Hicks would slot in comfortably as a setup man ahead of Camilo Doval in the bullpen. But, the sorry state of a downtrodden Giants' rotation created a need for this type of move. Alex Cobb is unlikely to return before Opening Day after hip surgery, newly acquired Robbie Ray had Tommy John in May, and after Logan Webb, the rotation is full of question marks.

At worst, $11 million is still reasonable for a backend bullpen stopper. At best, $11 million is an absolute steal for a decent rotation member.