Last year, only one everyday center fielder outhit Aaron Hicks per wRC+. You can probably guess who was ahead of him. Over the past couple of seasons, we’ve witnessed Hicks blossom into a star more than worthy of the $70 million extension he signed prior to the season. So, after missing the first month and a half of the year, Hicks’s return was supposed to be a big boost to the lineup.
Alas, the Yankees are still waiting for Hicks’s bat to get going. Entering tonight’s action, the switch-hitter owns a .213/.312/.383 (86 wRC+) in 109 plate appearances. Despite his slow start, he hasn’t brought the team down much. Since May 15th, the day Hicks got back, the Yankees have a 113 wRC+. That’s better than the 102 wRC+ the club posted without him. Still, the Yankees need him to get going.
Hicks’s usual keen eye appears to be a little off kilter this season. Yes, he is walking at his typical high rate, but that doesn’t mean he’s been as discerning as usual.
|Season||Z-Swing %||Chase %||Whiff %||Meatball Swing %|
Two big variances from last season immediately jump out: whiff percentage and meatball swing percentage. Hicks historically hasn’t had much trouble putting bat to ball, but this year, that’s not quite the case. His strikeout rate is up to 23.9 percent, which although isn’t terrible, it’s about five percent higher than last season. As for the meatball swing rate, it seems he’s being too passive. These are pitches he should be trying to clobber rather than lay off.
It’s not just grooved pitches that Hicks is letting go. He’s been more passive at all pitches in the zone. To make matters worse, he’s going after bad pitches more often. Fewer swings at strikes and more swings at balls? That’s not a good combination.
His final at bat last night exemplified of some of his issues. Here’s the first pitch:
That’s a slider up in the zone that he took. Crushable as light beer on a warm summer day.
And here’s the last pitch:
Virtually the same hanger as pitch one, except this time he swung through it. The good news is that he swung at it, but the bad news is that he whiffed.
Approach aside, Hicks isn’t striking the ball well either. A few metrics of note:
- xwOBA: .301
- xBA: .200
- xSLG: .383
None of those are good. Yet, Hicks’s exit velocity is virtually unchanged from last year. His barrel rate is up year-over-year, too. So what gives? The problem is his hard hit percentage (95 MPH or greater) is down quite a bit. Last year it was 43 percent whereas it’s down to 33.3 percent now.
Per Statcast, Hicks has suffered from more of two of the least desired batted ball outcomes: grounders and pop-ups. Hence the greater amount of weak contact despite more barrels. Not only does all of this understandably drive down his expected stats, but it’s also taken a toll on his actual results.
It hasn’t been an ideal return for Hicks, but fortunately he hasn’t brought the team down with him. And, although his underlying numbers seem to validate his poor results, it’s nothing to be alarmed about just yet. It’s still a small sample size; a good series could quickly bring his wRC+ above average again. And don’t forget, his last two seasons of stellar performance greatly outweigh what’s happened since he came off the injured list. Just think: this lineup has hit at a high level without Hicks being himself (and others being injured, of course). That’s promising.