Baseball’s hardest-throwing pitcher will miss extended time after tearing his ulnar collateral liagment.
Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks has been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, as the team announced Monday afternoon. This news means he’ll almost certainly end up having Tommy John surgery, though the Cardinals stated that they were “still determining the next course of action” for treatment of the injury as of Monday:
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) June 24, 2019
In recent years, Cardinals surgeon Dr. George Paletta has been one of the strongest advocates in the field for “primary repair” surgery, an operation that repairs the ligament rather than totally replacing it. (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold detailed the operation in 2017.) This procedure can only be performed with smaller tears, though, and with Hicks being just 22 years old, he may prefer to just opt for the tried-and-true Tommy John surgery anyway. Platelet-rich-plasma therapy has also been used as a method to treat smaller UCL tears in recent years to varying degrees of success, and it’s possible the Cardinals could consider that option if Hicks doesn’t have a complete tear of the ligament.
One could argue that Hicks, who is in his second major-league season, still has quite a bit of room for improvement — he has a 3.47 ERA with 8.5 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine over 106.1 big-league innings. But his raw talent is off the charts: He has the fastest average pitch velocity in baseball as measured by Statcast, with his sinker averaging 101.1 MPH. He’s also supplanted Aroldis Chapman as the pitcher who prevents all others from getting their moments in the spotlight on the Statcast fastest pitch leaderboard:
Along with Chapman, Hicks is one of only two pitchers to reach 105 MPH on the radar gun in a major-league game since pitch tracking began in 2008.
The Cardinals will presumably be active on the trade market over the next five weeks in an effort to offset Hicks’ loss. They have a pretty good back end of the bullpen, though, and it shouldn’t be as tough to replace him in the ninth inning as it’ll be to fill the lower-leverage roles as other pitchers gain more important responsibilities. Lefty Andrew Miller, who has been one of the most reliable relievers in baseball over the last half-decade but is having an up-and-down first season in St. Louis, could be a candidate to replace Hicks as the closer. So could Carlos Martínez, though the Cardinals have been stretching him out in recent weeks amid speculation that he could rejoin the rotation after the All-Star break. Right-handers John Gant and John Brebbia could be in line for save opportunities as well, though St. Louis would have to find someone else to excel in high-leverage situations during the middle innings as Gant and Brebbia have been doing so exceptionally this season.