The Atlanta Braves are dealing with some bullpen injuries. Even though they arguably have one of the best bullpens in the NL being first in ERA at 3.44, fWAR with 4.2, and FIP with 3.52, at this point it makes sense to explore adding some reinforcements that could not only help to finish up the season strong, but help in the post-season.
With Minter, Chavez, Anderson, and Lee being out, we can see just how important it is to ensure the bullpen can stay solid even when key pieces go down. 2023 also is on pace for having the most pitcher injuries in a single season ever. Currently we are on pace for approximately 525.5 injuries to pitchers this season. The highest we have ever seen in a season to this point is 489.
Needless to say, looking at an RP at the deadline could definitely be a good idea. Trading is obviously not as simple as picking a player you want and trading for them, like in a video game. There are many variables in play such as bidding wars, prospect cost, financial cost, years left on the contract, etc.
That being said, there is at least one RP that seems to fit the mold of the type of player that Alex Anthopoulos seems to like to target. Jordan Hicks of the Cardinals could be the type of player that could be wearing a Braves uniform come trade deadline time.
When you trade for a player (or sign a player for that matter), most of the time the idea is to acquire the player for what they will do in the future, and not for what they have accomplished in the past.
Hicks looks to have the peripherals to be the type of player that you can hope a team will sell low on with hopes that he will have a better foreseeable future.
Hicks’ surface numbers do not spark excitement. In 39.2 innings, he currently has an ERA of 3.86, and a WHIP of 1.487.
However, outside of those numbers we can see an arm that has good odds of not only helping your team have a better bullpen, but that his surface numbers improving as well.
He currently holds xERA much lower than his actual ERA at 3.23 and his xFIP is a much more palatable at 3.28 as well and it is easy to see why.
His BABIP against him is easily the highest of his career at .358. The highest he has ever had prior was .268 in 2022. He also has the highest strikeout rate of his career at 12.71 per nine innings and his HR/9 of 0.45 is exceptional. For reference, the only Atlanta Brave with a higher strikeout rate is Spencer Strider with a 14.3 and the only Atlanta Brave with a better HR/9 rate is Jesse Chavez with 0.3.
Hicks’ Statcast numbers are for the most part well above average as well:
· xSLG – Best 2.0 percent in MLB
· Average Exit Velocity – Best 8.0 percent
· Strikeout Rate – Best 9.0 percent
· Barrel Percentage – Best 9.0 percent
· xBA – Best 12.0 percent
· Whiff Percentage – Best 13.0 percent
· xERA – Best 17.0 percent
· Hard Hit Percentage – Best 26.0 Percent
The biggest concerns are his walk rate of 12.8 percent, which is in the bottom 7.0 percent of MLB and his chase rate, which is in the bottom 36.0 percent.
We can actually see already that his surface numbers are starting to improve at a rapid pace. The chart below shows how quickly his ERA and FIP have dropped since April.
At the start of the season, hitters were having no issue making contact with his pitches inside the zone, which also limited his ability get swings and misses inside the zone. But, as the season has gone on, Hicks has seemed to fixed this issue.
Hicks’ worst month was April with his xwOBA collectively among all of his pitches being .346. For reference, the league average xwOBA in 2023 is .352. Since then, he has not had a month over .258.
So far in July his wOBA of .335 has been much higher than his xwOBA of .256, showing that he is in line for his surface numbers to most likely improve yet again.
With Hicks being a rental piece, and potentially walking in free agency in the off-season, odds are he would not cost much in prospect capital. He also will only cost the pro-rated amount of $1.84M should the Braves take on his full contract. This is exactly the type of low risk, high reward type of move that the Braves’ front office loves to make.
Should Hicks be traded to the Braves, here is to hoping his surface numbers continue to trend towards his underlying peripherals.