Jordan Wicks has been the focus of some recent Five Stars, but last night he was so good against the Peoria Chiefs that he deserves his own post. It was easily the best start of Wicks’ young professional career: five innings, one hit, no runs, two walks, ten strikeouts. Let’s dive deep on it.
It’s particularly fun that the Cubs’ most recent first rounder is looking like this on the eve of the 2022 MLB Draft.
Ten things for the ten strikeouts …
One: Let’s start the discussion by introducing Wicks’ pitch usage last night: 51% fastballs, 19% changeups, 17% curveballs and 11% sliders. Wicks threw a lot of fastballs in the first and fifth innings, a lot of curveballs in the second and third, and really got into a changeup groove in the final two innings.
Two: The lack of dependency on the changeup overall is allowing the pitch to play up. And boy did it play up last night. Wicks threw 15 changeups last night; five of them were taken for balls. The other ten? ALL SWINGS AND MISSES. A one hundred percent whiff rate on his most-used secondary. This is mind-boggling; I’m even going to irresponsibly suggest it’s potentially really rare.
Three: What I’ve been most impressed by with Wicks lately is the balance of the offerings. While Wicks’ early-season struggles were mostly overblown, I did find that he was a guy struggling to find a pitch mix that provided more than the sum of its parts. Last night’s ten strikeouts consisted of at least two by all four pitches, and with eight of the strikeouts, the batter saw three different pitches in the same at-bat.
Four: It’s been interesting to watch the curveball usurp the slider as his preferred breaking ball recently, as that was the opposite early in the season. The curve is not just an early-count freeze pitch, as you see so often with four-pitch guys these days, but trusted late in at-bats as well. The good news is that Wicks’ misses recently have been just bouncing it too early; he snaps it off well enough to not hang it.
Five: All that said, Wicks’ best breaking ball execution was the best back foot slider of his career that ended the third inning. This is the pitch that threatens to make Wicks unstoppable.
Six: First pitch strikes to 12 of 18 batters last night, including a first pitch strike with each of his four pitches in the third inning. He’s so dangerous when ahead in the count; it really feels like the confidence grows as an at-bat goes on. Wicks also seems to have really benefited from a decision to pitch faster – he’s now one of the quickest between pitches in the system – and the Peoria broadcast crew noted many times how different it seemed than in the past.
Seven: Insanely good contact management in this one, as only six balls were put into play, four of which were infield fly outs. Besides that, Wicks allowed one sharply hit single on a ground ball down the line and a lazy fly out to center. The lack of balls in play means that he didn’t bring his season BABIP number down much: it still stands an absurd, and almost-certainly-unearned, .363.
Eight: That soft contact also meant that only one batter reached second base all game against him, and that was the result of a fielding mistake. With two outs in the fifth, catcher Casey Opitz easily threw out a baserunner … except the ball hopped out of Yeison Santana’s glove when the runner’s foot hit it directly. (A note that I thought Opitz was really fantastic behind the dish last night and deserves a modicum of credit for Jordan’s success.)
Nine: The caught-stealing-that-wasn’t did allow Wicks to reach back and throw 95 mph on his second-to-last pitch of the game, before finishing it up with a changeup for a strikeout. We’ve seen 95 and 96 on stadium guns during the fifth of his last two starts, which is huge. Don’t assume that because Wicks was described as a “polished college pitcher” that he can’t add velocity — the same was once said about Keegan Thompson. Modern baseball has the ability to squeeze extra miles per hour out of any pitcher, it seems, especially for people as hard-working as Jordan.
Ten: Let me finish this up speaking plainly: it’s time for Jordan Wicks to head to Double-A. The numbers since May 7: 52.1 IP, 48 H, 3.10 ERA, 13 BB, 67 K. Broadcaster Max Thoma points out that if the official scorer in Dayton hadn’t made a mistake in early June, that ERA would be 2.41, and that’s with a still-high .344 BABIP.
When you neutralize the luck statistics, you’re left with a guy striking out a third of the batters he faces, walking almost no one, executing four pitches routinely, and pitching at the peak velocity of his life.
That combination belongs in Tennessee.