Sunday Notes: For Cubs Southpaw Jordan Wicks, (The) Change Is Good

Sunday Notes: For Cubs Southpaw Jordan Wicks, (The) Change Is Good


Jordan Wicks is one of the most promising young pitchers in the Chicago Cubs organization. Drafted 21st overall in 2021 by the North Side club out of Kansas State University, the 24-year-old southpaw is coming off of a season that saw him win four of five decisions and log a 4.41 ERA over his first seven big league starts. Moreover, his minor-league ledger included a 7-0 record and a 3.55 ERA between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Assigned a 50 FV by our own Eric Longenhagen, Wicks is projected to slot comfortably into new Chicago manager Craig Counsell’s rotation in the coming campaign.

The big lefty — he’s listed at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds — has a diverse arsenal, but one offering stands out above the rest. His changeup, which he began throwing as a Little Leaguer in Conway, Arkansas, is not only the best in the system, it could prove to be one of the best in the National League. As he explained at the tail end of last season, the pitch is his “bread-and-butter, and it has been for awhile.”

Asked for more history on his go-to, Wicks told me that it was his “premium off-speed” growing up, and that he “didn’t really throw a curveball or a slider when [he] was younger.” His repertoire now includes both, as well as a cutter and both two- and four-seam fastballs. Pitchability is another of his assets, and he gets high marks for his competitiveness, but again, it’s the diving circle that earned him his first-round pedigree and has him poised to contribute to a big-league rotation.

“For him it’s always been about the changeup, and it will probably continue to be the changeup,” said a scout who has watched Wicks in recent years. “He showed flashes of his other pitches in college, but he didn’t really need to use much more than his fastball and his changeup. It’s a good combination. While he’s made some tweaks to his repertoire — he’s not just a two-pitch guy — even if a hitter is sitting on it, he can double or triple up on it because it’s a pretty difficult pitch to hit. There have been pitchers who are successful with just a good fastball they can locate and a double-plus changeup.”

Wicks grips and delivers his signature pitch in fairly standard fashion. He described it as a small circle, one in which he hooks a seam with his thumb, his thumb pulling down when he releases the ball. He doesn’t consciously pronate. Having thrown the pitch for as long as he has, that’s “just natural at this point.”

His most-frequently-thrown pitch (29.7% in his seven outings) is most effective when it’s getting more depth and less side-to-side. Wicks feels that it is easier for hitters to pick it up when it runs more than usual, hence his efforts to stay on top of the ball and primarily get downward action. That said, he doesn’t view movement as its most important attribute. Nor does he consider optimal velocity separation from his heater to be paramount to its success.

“I think it’s primarily the ability to sequence it,” opined Wicks. “The changeup is a pitch where you can’t really quantify what makes it good. It has to be how you use it. It has to be the arm-speed. It has to be the command of it. Arm-speed is probably the biggest thing, but you can’t just sit at a computer and tell who has a good changeup and who doesn’t.”

Jordan Wicks has a good changeup.Just ask the hitters.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Jose Altuve went 17 for 34 against Félix Hernández.

Felix Fermin went 10 for 12 against Mark Guthrie.

Felix Pie went 9 for 14 against Gavin Floyd.

Felix Millan went 6 for 7 against Sammy Ellis.

Junior Felix went 5 for 9 against Hipolito Pichardo.

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Jon Matlack did a live interview over Zoom for SABR’s Oral History Committee earlier this week, and the entertaining exchange included his memories of a hit he surrendered on September 30, 1972. It was the last of Roberto Clemente’s career, and one whose circumstances caught the then-22-year-old southpaw by surprise.

“I was a wet-behind-the-ears rookie that did not know that the famous Clemente needed one more for 3,000,” admitted Matlack, who was with the New York Mets. “I was having a tough day. I walked too many guys. I’m getting beat [and] was just trying to get another out… I tried a backdoor curveball, and when it [leaves] my hand I know it’s not going to be a strike; I’m mad at myself because of how it came out. Somehow he rifles it one hop off the left-centerfield wall for a double. They present him with the ball at second base and I’m going, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve got a ballgame here to play. Why are you giving him the ball?’ Then I see the 3,000 flashing on the scoreboard. It dawned on me that I was going to be in the history books.”

The now-74-year-old West Chester, Pennsylvania native is in the history books for more than just a pitch thrown to a Hall of Famer. Matlack won NL Rookie of the Year with the Mets, and four years later he made three starts for them in the World Series (he was the losing pitcher in Game 7, which saw the Oakland Athletics capture the second of their three consecutive titles). A three-time All-Star who also played for the Texas Rangers, Matlack finished his career with 125 wins and a 114 ERA+.

The video will be archived at SABR.org in the near future.

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A quiz:

Who has the highest batting average in Texas Rangers franchise history (minimum 2,000 plate appearances)?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

SABR announced this week that the list of speakers for this summer’s national convention, which will be held in Minneapolis from August 7-11, will include Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva. More information can be found here.

SABR also announced a new panel for next month’s analytics conference, which will be held in Phoenix from March 8-10. Moderated by Mark Simon, it will comprise Vince Gennaro, Brian Kenny, Eno Sarris, Bobby Scales, our own Meg Rowley. More information can be found here.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has inducted former Toronto Blue Jays Jimmy Key and Russell Martin, as well as Howard Birnie, Paul Godfrey, Rod Heisler, and Ashley Stephenson. The induction ceremony will be held on June 15 in St. Marys, Ontario.

Al McBean, a native of the Virgin Islands who pitched primarily for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a career that spanned the 1961-1970 seasons, died on January 31 at age 85. The right-hander went 15-10 as a starter in 1962, then switched to the bullpen and went 27-12 with 51 saves and a 2.29 ERA over the next three campaigns.

John Pregenzer, who made 19 pitching appearances for the San Francisco Giants in 1963-1964, also died on January 31, at age 91. The Burlington, Wisconsin native was on the winning end of both of his career decisions, each coming against the Pirates in games where Al McBean also took the mound.

Yet another former big-leaguer to pass away recently is Brant Alyea, who played for four teams from 1965-1972. Born Garrabrant Ryerson Alyea, in Passaic, New Jersey, the right-handed-hitting outfielder homered for the Washington Senators in his first big-league appearance, then went on to have his best season with the Minnesota Twins, logging a 144 wRC+ and 16 dingers in 1970. Alyea was 83 when he died on February 4.

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The answer to the quiz is Al Oliver, who batted .319 with the Rangers from 1978-1981. Will Clark is second, having hit .307 with Texas from 1994-1998.

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Corey Kluber announced his retirement on Friday after a 13-year, injury-marred career that included three All-Star nods, two Cy Young Awards, and a no-hitter. Those are impressive accomplishments, and they bring to mind those of a contemporary who threw his last pitch in 2016. Tim Lincecum had a 10-year, injury-marred career that included four All-Star nods, two Cy Young Awards, and two no-hitters.

Which of the right-handers was better? I asked that question in a Twitter poll shortly after the retirement news broke, and the results were intriguing. Lincecum received 57% of the 305 votes cast, while Kluber received 43%.

Did the voters get it right? Keeping in mind that “better” is somewhat subjective, here is snapshot of their numbers:

Lincecum: 270 starts, 1,682 IP, 1,736 Ks, 110-89 W-L record, 3.45 FIP. 104 ERA+.Kluber: 260 starts, 1,641.2 IP, 1,725 Ks, 116-77 W-L record, 3.23 FIP, 122 ERA+.

Does Kluber’s clear edge in ERA hold more weight than an extra All-Star appearances and a second no-hitter? That’s a matter of opinion.

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Sticking with Twitter polls, I ran one a few days ago asking which of four young players will go on to have the best career. There was no runaway winner, but there was a potential superstar garnering a scant amount of support. Tooled-up Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz received just 8.0% of the 352 votes cast.

As for the three who polled well, NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll came out on top with 37.2%, while AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson finished third with 23.3%. Sandwiched in between was Bobby Witt Jr. — he of the recently-inked $288.8M contract extension — with 31.5% of support.

Which of the talented group would get my own vote? I’d be inclined to go with Witt. Predicting the future can be a fools’s errand — health or any number of other factors can compromise a career — but the 23-year-old shortstop has a chance to one day be looked upon as one of the best players in Kansas City Royals history. I wouldn’t bet against it.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Venezuela captured this year’s Caribbean Series, beating the Dominican Republic 3-0 in Friday’s championship game, which was played in front of 36,677 fans in Miami. Ricardo Pinto, who was named series MVP, went five-and-two-thirds innings for the win, while Hernán Pérez plated a run-scoring triple. Panama won the third-place game, edging Curaçao by a count of 5-4.

Scott Radinsky will be managing in the Netherlands this summer. The former Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels pitching coach will be at the helm for UVV Utrecht, which plays in the Hoofdklasse, Holland’s top league.

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A random obscure former player snapshot:

He was anything but obscure during his playing days, but as his career dates back over century there is a pretty good chance you don’t know about Larry Doyle. A second baseman who played for the New York Giants and (briefly) the Chicago Cubs from 1907-1920, “Laughing Larry” logged a 125 wRC+ and 49.6 WAR. Moreover, he was named NL MVP in 1912 after batting .330… and that wasn’t even his best statistical season. A year earlier, Doyle batted .310 with 25 doubles, 25 triples, 13 home runs, and a 152 wRC+, then in 1915 he had a 143 wRC+ to go along with a league-leading .320 batting average. The Giants played in the World Series each year from 1911-1913, losing all three times.

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Blake Butera and Michael King were teammates at Boston College for two seasons, and they did more than just compete together on the baseball team. They also went head-to-head on the basketball court, which often didn’t go well for the now Tampa Bay Rays farm director. King, whom the San Diego Padres acquired from the New York Yankees in December as part of the Juan Soto deal, held a distinct height advantage over the athletic-but-undersized middle infielder.

“He was two years behind me, and in the fall we would find time to play pickup basketball at our practice gym,” recalled Butera, who went on to play two professional seasons after graduating from BC. “We would go against each other every chance we got. He was pretty good. I’m also 5-foot-8, so while I always thought I had a chance to beat him… man, I used to get so mad. There were times I left the gym pretty upset with Michael, not wanting to talk to him. ”

Was it mostly as matter of being out-sized by the 6-foot-3 right-hander/hooper?

“That’s all I’m going to give him,” Butera said of his friend. “He could ball a little bit, but when it comes to talent, I think I had him beat.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince told the tragic story of Dobie Moore, a forgotten Negro Leagues phenom who played for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1920-1926 before being shot in the leg by a neighbor.

Sports Info Solutions’s Mark Simons looked at the biggest differences between pitchers’ OPS-against and expected OPS-against.

Jason Kanzler left the Houston Astros organization to become the Director of Player Development for the Chicago Cubs. Sahadez Sharma wrote about it for The Athletic (subscription required).

Also at The Athletic, Brittany Ghiroli talked to Bianca Smith, who made history as the first Black woman coach in professional baseball but has since moved on from the Red Sox.

At The Japan Times, Mai Yoshikawa introduced us to Shiki Nakayama, a Gen Z-er in Japan who is forging a path for girls in baseball.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Zack Greinke has logged 2,979 strikeouts and thrown 101 wild pitches. Clayton Kershaw has logged 2,944 strikeouts and thrown 101 wild pitches. Their WP totals are tied for the most among active pitchers.

In 1932, Washington Senators right-hander Alvin “General” Crowder hurled a big-league best 327 innings and threw nary a wild pitch, nor did he hit a batter or be charged with a balk. He issued 77 free passes and went 26-13 with a 3.33 ERA.

James Karinchak threw 39 innings last year and walked 28 batters. In 1904, Cy Young threw 380 innings and walked 29 batters.

Jerry Reuss, Mickey Lolich, and Rick Reuschel all logged 191 losses. Their respective win totals were 220, 217, and 214.

Félix Hernández threw 2,729-and-two-thirds innings, allowed 2,487 hits, and went 169-136 with a 117 ERA+. Hippo Vaughn threw 2,730 innings, allowed 2,461 hits, and went 178-137 with a 119 ERA+. Hernández had 25 complete games and surrendered 264 home runs. Vaughn had 214 complete games and surrendered 39 home runs.

Walker Cooper, an eight-time All-Star catcher in the 1940s, had seven multiple-home-run games. One was a three-homer game in which he went 6-for-7 with 10 RBIs. Five were two-homer games in which the second came in the eighth inning or later and was a game-winner.

The Washington Nationals signed Adam Dunn to a free-agent contract on today’s date in 2009. The Three True Outcomes legend slugged 38 home runs in each of his two seasons in the nation’s capital, drawing 193 walks and striking out 376 times along the way.

Bill Madlock and Bobby Murcer were the centerpieces of a five-player trade between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants on today’s date in 1977. Madlock, who had just won consecutive batting titles, and would later win two more, went west. Murcer, a five-time All-Star who finished his career with a 124 wRC+, became a Cub.

Players born on today’s date include Ben Oglivie, an outfielder who logged a 116 wRC+ and made three All-Star teams in a big-league career that spanned the 1971-1986 seasons. The Colon, Panama native’s best year was 1980 when he slugged 41 home runs and put up a 147 wRC+ with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Also born on today’s date was John Paciorek, whose three hits are the most among modern era (since 1901) players who finished with a 1.000 batting average. The Hamtramck, Michigan native went 3-for-3 with two walks in his only big-league game, with the Houston Colt .45s on September 29, 1963.



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