Hicks details career evolution of eye-popping fastball velocity

Hicks details career evolution of eye-popping fastball velocity originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The back fields at spring training complexes generally are not where you find pitchers lighting up radar guns. There are no crowds or bright lights, and pitchers often have to manufacture ways to get their adrenaline up as they face hitters in a quiet environment with coaches and teammates standing behind the mound.

But when you have a right arm like Jordan Hicks does, it's not hard to find that extra velocity. It was on a back field in Florida in 2017 where Hicks first saw a notable number pop up.

"I had hit 98 (mph), 99 a couple of times, and I just came in there and was like, I'm going to let it rip today," he said on Thursday's Giants Talk podcast. "I think I actually hit 101 the same day I hit 100 (for the first time). I think it was just that progression of learning your body, learning how to pitch. I was drafted at 18 years old and just kind of had a live arm, and then it's about learning how everything syncs up together and I feel like over time it kinda just clicked."

The progression never slowed for Hicks, who has reached triple digits nearly 1,700 times since making his debut in 2018, just about doubling up the next closest MLB pitcher. Hicks is the only pitcher over that time with at least 10 pitches at 104 mph or above, and he twice maxed out at 105 during a battle with Philadelphia's Odubel Herrera in the ninth inning of a 2018 game. He's the only pitcher to see a 105 on the scoreboard since Statcast took over tracking in 2017, but Aroldis Chapman did it seven times the previous year under the Pitch F/X system. Chapman holds the modern record with a 105.8 mph dart in 2010.

Chapman and Hicks have watched others approach that territory in recent years, including two of Hicks' teammates. Among the six pitchers who have reached 104 in the Statcast era are Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley and Giants closer Camilo Doval, who did it in September of 2022.

In Hicks and Doval, the Giants have two of the seven pitchers who hit 100 at least 275 times last season. Hicks led the way with 563 triple-digit pitches and joined Minnesota’s Jhoan Duran -- who maxed out at 104.8 -- in clearing 104.

It seems that every camp these days has multiple prospects who can touch 100 with ease and the college ranks are no different, but Hicks sees a natural limit to what the human body can do.

"Chapman hit 105 almost 13 years go and slowly we've had guys catching up, but no one has surpassed it. That's almost, in my head, the peak," he said. "I don't think you go much higher than that. You see all the other guys learning how to use their body and what's being preached, and it's more guys just figuring out what it takes, what is it that gets me there. (That 105.8) might get beaten, but I don't think it gets beaten by, like, 107. I think it's, like, 106.1, or something like that."

When the record goes down, it likely won't be Hicks who does it. He came to San Francisco in large part because they want him to start for the next four years, and while he still has 100 in the back pocket, he'll be working in the upper 90s this year and trying to get quick outs.

When Hicks came out of the bullpen he would dial it up because he knew that back-to-back doubles could cost the Cardinals a game, but as a starter, he'll work more like a supercharged Logan Webb. Hicks and Webb have been throwing partners this spring and the new Giant plans to lean heavily on his sinker and let Matt Chapman and the infield defense go to work.

"The biggest transition for me is just going to be dialing in the bottom of the zone with my sinker," Hicks said. "I love where my slider is at right now and I love where the splitter is at. Just having those two pitches with the four-seam and the sinker, I saw a little bit last year (and) I think it's going to be pretty good."

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