The Cardinals have been effective at crafting high level pitching the last few years. Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks are two of the Cardinals’ crown jewels of the system, however, they are completely different yet similar. What separates them?
Two of the most talked about players of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals season have been Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks. Hicks has been with the club since Opening Day and Reyes has been recovering from Tommy John surgery with two really good rehab starts under his belt.
Fans have been anticipating the re-arrival of the organization’s most promising prospect in Alex Reyes and at the same time salivating over the velocity and potential of Jordan Hicks. It’s no doubt that Hicks opened some eyes in Spring Training and has continued to do so during the season.
However, there is one thing that is seemingly holding Hicks back and separates him from the likes of Alex Reyes.
Alex Reyes Repertoire
Before I dig into what can be seen in video, I want to dive into the difference between these two pitchers’ repertoire. So, let’s dig in.
Alex Reyes has an extremely deep repertoire for a pitcher of his experience level and it absolutely is going to go a long way in making him a fantastic starting pitcher moving forward. Below is a graph from Brooksbaseball.net and Joe Schwarz of Birds on the Black that dictates the five pitches that Alex Reyes possesses and the frequency in which he used them in 2016.
For a more in-depth look at Reyes’ repertoire, I highly suggest you go back and read Joe Schwarz’s piece on his repertoire from late last year. Joe is fantastic at what he does and is a prime reason why I blog today.
As Joe mentions in his piece, Reyes has four legitimate swing and miss pitches in his arsenal with the sinker leaning towards being a pitch that will do wonders in setting hitters up in the future. This is very different than what we see in Jordan Hicks.
Jordan Hicks Repertoire
Here we see that Hicks is really just using two pitches. His sinker (which some believe to be a two-seamer) and a slider. Hicks also has a four-seam fastball but as you can see here it is only used 2.01% of the time. Both the fastball and sinker average above 100 MPH, which is pretty dang good and is what we see when we see Hicks light it up at 102 MPH.
The movement he has on that sinker is pretty wicked too, with -8.22 horizontal movement and 3.97 vertical movement. To go along with this his slider that goes in the opposite direction from the sinker and can leave a hitter devastated.
However, Hicks’ limited repertoire leaves him to rather predictable leading to a high contact rate and just 7.81 K/9. 98% of the time, HIcks is going to throw the sinker or slider; nothing else. So, a hitter who studies the data knows what to expect when he goes out there to face Hicks. Now, that doesn’t make it necessarily easy to hit, but these hitters are professionals too.
Props to Brooksbaseball.net for the graph.
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What the video shows
I probably mentioned this on one of our podcasts a couple weeks ago, and I can’t remember which one. However, in having a conversation with Joe Schwarz and Zach Gifford, Joe mentioned that Jordan HIcks is not hiding the ball very well.
This is causing hitters to be able to get their eyes on the pitch longer, allowing them to track it out of his hand and to the plate. Again, these are professional hitters trained to do these types of things.
Now, it still doesn’t allow them to make hard contact, as hitters are hitting him hard about 31.7% of the time which isn’t that great. However, It has been something that has been gradually increasing. Which is something to at least be concerned about a bit.
Here is some video evidence of what I am seeing:
These top two videos are of Alex Reyes. I have these videos slowed down to 1/4 speed for you to be able to see the difference. I wanted to give you both the view from behind the plate as well as the view from the centerfield camera. If you watch Reyes you see that as he begins his windup he actually twists his body slightly. This allows for some deception with him retrieving the ball from his glove.
As he brings the ball out of his glove he furthers the deception in bringing it back behind his body and brings it up behind his head. At this point, his torso is actually parallel to the hitter. So, the hitter likely doesn’t see the ball until he begins to throw it. Because of his arm-slot, a right-handed batter would likely be at a disadvantage with viewing the ball.
Now, let’s parallel that with Hicks:
Hicks’ primary issue is his delivery here. Watching Hicks you can see that Hicks does not tilt his body to hide the ball like Reyes does. Immediately after taking the ball from his glove; the batter can see the ball no matter what side of the plate they hit from. While Hicks does bring the ball back and up behind his head like Reyes, the ball is not being hidden by his body.
A left-handed hitter in this instance will be able to see the ball out of the glove and then see it as he brings it behind his back. That will give them two instances to recognize the grip. With his smaller repertoire, the hitter can then expect one of two outcomes with it likely being the sinker.
Likely what is happening is that the hitter has so long to then track the pitch that making any kind of contact isn’t that hard. This is made clear when you see the 82.6% contact rate that hitters have against Hicks.
Hicks stuff is still really good. That sinker is Noah Syndergaard like and it is absolutely his best pitch. His slider isn’t half bad either. He is getting ground-ball outs and medium contact outs as well. However, one of the things that he is going to need to work on is hiding the ball better.
Not only that, but Hicks needs to get more comfortable with a pitch he hasn’t thrown at the major league level yet. That pitch is a changeup. I am not sure if what Fangraphs has listed as his changeup is something else, or he has just abandoned it at the major league level. However, they have him with 40/50 changeup right now. That coupled with a decreased reliance on the sinker will help him develop into a better pitcher.
Not to make the claim that either of these guys are going to be Bob Gibson esque. But, in a piece for Sports on Earth, Buck Showalter is quoted as saying this about the Gibson era “Guys from that era did such a great job hiding the ball. Look at Koufax, Marichal, [Bob] Gibson … they were all arms and legs flying at you. They made it hard for hitters to pick up the ball.”
Deception is as much a part of pitching successfully as velocity is. Reyes’ delivery and his repertoire are what makes him as deceptive as he is. Couple that with Reyes’ ability to tunnel his pitches extremely well as Joe Schwarz will tell you and Reyes is incredibly special. I cannot wait to see his return to the majors later this season. I also am hoping that Maddux and others can work with Hicks to help him develop some more deception with his delivery.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this. If you did, I would appreciate it if you would comment and let me know your thoughts. I would also appreciate it if you would follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Kudos to Baseball America and Baseball Census for the great behind home plate videos of Reyes and Hicks.