2 questions Jordan Hicks will need to answer for the SF Giants in 2024 to stick as a starter

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Jordan Hicks will enter the season as one of the starters in the rotation. Hicks has spent the bulk of his career as a reliever, so moving to the rotation is a fascinating experiment. The 27-year-old pitcher will need to answer two questions for the SF Giants in 2024 to prove he can stick in the rotation.

2 questions Jordan Hicks will need to answer for the SF Giants in 2024 to stick as a starter

The Giants were in the market for starting pitching this winter and they surprised plenty of folks when they inked Hicks to a four-year, $44 million pact. Hicks spent his first five seasons in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform before he was shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2023 trade deadline.

The right-handed hurler came up as a starter in the minors but transitioned to the bullpen as that was his quickest path to reach the majors. The Cardinals attempted to stretch him out again as a starter but shut down that experiment after eight starts following wrist and forearm ailments in 2022.

So, what questions does Hicks need to answer to to stick as a starter this season?

1. Will he be able to throw enough strikes?

The five-year veteran flashes a sinker that reaches triple digits along with a sweeper, slider, changeup, and an occasional splitter. The sinker and sweeper are his best pitches and both have a function. While he can reach 100 MPH with his sinker, he may need to take some off of it to get through each start.

Not surprisingly, the sinker does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. Hicks has induced a ground ball in 60.4 percent of batted ball events throughout his career. He should stand to benefit from an infield that could include Matt Chapman, Nick Ahmed, and Thairo Estrada. Chapman and Ahmed have six Gold Glove awards between them, whereas Estrada was one of the better defensive second basemen last season.

The key for a ground ball pitcher is to have a defense that can convert ground balls to outs at a high rate. That has been an issue for the Giants in recent seasons, but it should be improved with the infield alignment listed above.

On the other hand, the sweeper is his swing-and-miss pitch. Hicks has had no problem getting hitters to swing and miss against him. He has registered a 9.4 K/9 in his career and that is due in part to his sweeper.

That said, the righty pitcher does not always know where either pitch is going. He has tallied a 4.9 BB/9 since he debuted in 2017. That number needs to improve considerably.

He will likely never have above-average command, but he also has a high margin for error with location mistakes. When you throw a sinker that comfortably sits in the high 90's, you can get away with some extra misses.

He needs to throw more strikes because it is going to be difficult to get any type of length from him as a starter while walking batters at his current rate. It is okay to miss in the zone because he has a couple of weapons.

The veteran pitcher may never have enough control to pitch deep into games, but the Giants hope that he can give them at least five quality innings each time out.

2. Will he be healthy enough to make 25 or more starts?

Hicks has never thrown more than 77.2 innings in a season. Expecting him to go from 65.2 frames in 2023 to 150 or more innings seems unrealistic. At best, he could be a low-volume starter with quality rate stats across the board.

The hard-throwing pitcher is not going to be a workhorse, but can he be durable enough to stick as a starter? Hicks underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and this kept him on the shelf for the following season as well. He has continued to have elbow fatigue since then while battling wrist and neck issues as well.

Hicks has a long injury history at this point and the physical demand of being in the rotation and trying to pitch every fifth day could only exacerbate that. The Giants will need to figure out how to keep him healthy and on the mound. They have had some level of success with that in recent seasons. Both Alex Cobb and Alex Wood have missed considerable time in their respective careers, but each has tallied at least 25 appearances in recent seasons. The Giants will need similar success with Hicks or else a move to the bullpen could happen sooner rather than later.