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A Yankee Holiday Wish List

‘Tis the season, isn’t it, folks? Whether you’re in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah or gearing up for Christmas or Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice, or whatever you celebrate, it’s the holiday season. In that spirit–and in the spirit of keeping safe and healthy in our celebrations this holiday season–here’s a list of my holiday wishes for some Yankees.

Gary Sanchez: For Gary, I wish a year of no tinkering and no tampering with his approach behind the plate. We’ve heard via Luke Voit that Gary is already working to correct his poor hitting in 2020 and that’s what he needs. What I think he doesn’t need–and I’ve expressed this before–is another round of fiddling with his catching. Sanchez will likely never be a great blocker, maybe not even a good one, but even without the tampering last year, he was a decent framer. He also calls a good game and has a rocket arm. Let him focus on what he’s good at behind the plate so that his struggles and adjustments there don’t carry over to the plate like they did in 2020.

Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Luke Voit: For these three, I wish for fully healthy and productive seasons. The former is asking a lot, especially so of Hicks and Judge, but I so badly want these three to play 140+ games in 2021 to show off what they can really do. Given their levels of talent and previous levels of production, all three could be MVP candidates with full seasons under their belts.

News & Notes: Cashman on YES, Hicks, Cortes returns

The Winter Meetings have come and gone with a thud. Sure, a few deals went down, but nothing earth-shattering. I suppose this was to be expected. Rather than a steady flow of rumors and moves, it was just like every other week this offseason.

Brian Cashman sheds some light on the Yankees’ offseason

The Yankees stood pat this week, but we do have some team-related news to relay, mostly thanks to Brian Cashman’s interview on YES yesterday. NJ.com’s Randy Miller transcribed a number of relevant quotes which I’ll break down here as well.

  • Cashman expressed the team’s intent to bring back free agent DJ LeMahieu. No shocker here.
  • After discussing LeMahieu, Meredith Marakovits asked if Masahiro Tanaka fits into the picture if the team re-signs LeMahieu. Cashman was very coy here, basically saying he couldn’t answer the question about what fits into the team’s budget. I’ve seen folks read that response as if Tanaka is a goner. I understand that sentiment, especially given his openness about wanting to bring back DJLM. However, it’s not like he was directly asked about wanting to bring back Tanaka. I wonder if he used the question being targeted toward the financial aspect to avoid talking about Tanaka at all. Perhaps that means a reunion with Tanaka isn’t out of the cards, though maybe I’m just overthinking it.
  • The GM had plenty of good things to say about Gary Sánchez, though he couched his statement by saying that they’re not giving him a pass. Cashman cited how hard he hit the ball this season when he made contact, which was obviously an issue for him (36 percent strikeout rate). It should come as no surprise that the team tendered him a contract last week based on Cashman’s steadfast belief in the backstop.
  • It sure sounds like Domingo Germán has been welcomed back based on the way Cashman spoke about the rotation. Hal Steinbrenner had previously said the team would need “proof that he [Germán] turned his life around”.
  • Cashman would like to add to the rotation this offseason, but he also stated that “you could certainly daydream” that the pitching staff might actually have everything that it already needs. Look, I love some of the young arms that this team has, but let’s add some depth please.

Aaron Hicks says his elbow still isn’t 100 percent

In addition to Cashman, the Yankees’ center fielder was also on YES last night. I believe Hicks mentioned this during the regular season, but I found it notable that he said yesterday that his elbow still doesn’t feel 100 percent after Tommy John surgery. Perhaps it won’t be, which stinks.

As Hicks noted in the interview, he felt like it took him until the end of the year to really feel more like himself. His numbers bore this out too. Offensively, that may be as a result of changing his swing so he doesn’t hyperextend his elbow. I’m pretty sure this is the first we’ve heard of Hicks having to adjust his swing mechanics since the surgery.

Nestor Cortes is back in the organization

Per his own Instagram account, Nestor Cortes has re-signed with the Yankees after spending 2020 with the Mariners. The Yanks dealt him to Seattle last offseason, and sheesh, did Cortes struggle. He had a 15.26 ERA in 7 2/3 innings with the Mariners. Elbow issues appear to be the blame here as an elbow impingement shut his season down mid-August. The lefty is now pitching in the Dominican Republic, so he’s presumably healthy.

The Yankees haven’t announced the move yet, but it’s safe to assume that this is a minor league deal. I’m sure we’ll see Cortes receive an invite to spring training, too. Odds are he’s just minor league depth during 2021, though he could serve as a mop-up man if absolutely needed in the big leagues.

It took time, but Aaron Hicks shook off Tommy John surgery with aplomb [2020 Season Review]

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Aaron Hicks had a pretty good 2020, though as I’ll get to in a moment, his production really picked up toward the end of the campaign. Overall, the switch-hitting center fielder batted .225/.379/.414 (123 wRC+) with 6 dingers in 211 plate appearances. Perhaps the batting average left a bit to be desired, but considering that he walked more often than he struck out (19.4 percent vs. 18.0 percent of the time), he was very productive. Let’s break down his year.

A slow return from Tommy John surgery

The good news is that Aaron Hicks didn’t have to spend any time on the injured list this season. Obviously, a big part of that is due to the pandemic shortened season. Otherwise, he likely would have been on the Didi Gregorius 2019 return timeline after having offseason Tommy John surgery. Gregorius returned on June 7th last year, and one figures that Hicks would have been back around the same time under normal circumstances. Instead, the center fielder was ready for the July 23rd opener.

The bad news is that Hicks struggled a bit out of the gate offensively. Not unlike Didi, who didn’t rediscover his power stroke until later in 2019. Hicks wasn’t bad per se, but he certainly wasn’t himself. Through August 29th, he owned a .198/.343/.383 (102 wRC+) in 99 plate appearances. His always stellar walk rate was still in tact (18.2 percent), but his power hadn’t shown up yet (2 homers). Additionally, Hicks was far better hitting left-handed (114 wRC+) compared to right-handed (61 wRC+), though I wouldn’t make too much of that as we’re making an already small sample even smaller (21 PA as a righty).

Thoughts with the Yankees on the brink of elimination

Sure as hell isn’t Giancarlo’s fault that the Yankees are in this predicament.

Game 4 is just a few hours away and the Yankees are in a position that appeared unforeseeable after Monday’s victory. Sentiments sure can change quickly in October, huh? I bet we’d all be pretty fired up about tomorrow if the Yankees can top the Rays tonight. With that, I have a few things I want to discuss before first pitch.

We have all winter to discuss the future of this team. I’m not denying that these last two losses have been dreadful to watch, but there’s no reason to act like this series is over. Do the Yankees have their work cut out for them? Yes. It’s not going to be easy to overcome a 2-1 deficit. At the same time, it’s not an impossible task.

It’s natural to start forward-thinking at this stage. I’m guilty of that myself; offseason scenarios have already begun to cross my mind. There are obvious needs, namely pitching depth, that the Yankees have to address this winter. Frankly, they should have addressed them at the trade deadline. But again, that’s neither here nor there. The Yankees are still alive, even with lackluster performances on the mound from everyone not named Gerrit Cole compounded by highly questionable strategies. Until the clock actually strikes midnight on the Yankees, I’m going to save my energy on the future of this team or lament about what the team didn’t do for the 2020 roster. Let’s save that for the long and cold winter.

Giancarlo Stanton has been amazing, but let’s also show Aaron Hicks some love. Stanton’s getting a ton of attention for turning this postseason into a home run derby of his own, and deservedly so. It’s really nice to hear all of his detractors shut up for once. He is one of the greatest hitters in the sport and is delivering when the Yankees need it. I take joy in dancing on the grave of horrible takes like the following, but I also never want to see something like this again:

My goodness. Tyler Wade over Giancarlo Stanton.

Anyway, I’d like to spend some time highlighting Aaron Hicks’s excellent series. Believe it or not, Hicks (+3.03 percent) has a higher championship probability added than Stanton (+1.88 percent) in the ALDS. Game level win probability is a bit closer, with Hicks at 0.29 to Stanton’s 0.22.

Game 59: Deivi and the offense bounce back

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The Yankees toppled the Marlins today, 11-4. Deivi García pitched excellently in spite of some bad luck and the offense finally woke up after an inauspicious start. Let’s get right to the takeaways:

After an ugly start, we were reminded of this offense’s potency. The Yankees hit into five double plays yesterday and hit into another in the first inning today. DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge reached base to start the game, but Giancarlo Stanton bounced into a 6-4-3 DP thereafter. From there, Marlins’ starter Trevor Rogers retired six of the next seven Yankees he faced to end his outing. It was an ugly start and had the feeling of “here we go again”, especially after the Marlins scored three fluky runs in the third (more on that momentarily).

That sentiment was erased in the fifth and sixth innings, thankfully. As you’d expect, Tyler Wade got the Yankees on the board with a two-run dinger against Ryne Stanek.

Again, just as you’d expect. But the run scoring didn’t end there. The Yankees tied it with a two out rally from Judge and Stanton. Judge walked, and after Don Mattingly summoned James Hoyt from the bullpen to replace Stanek, Stanton drove in Judge.

The offense blew this one wide open in the next inning against old friend Stephen Tarpley. The lefty faced six batters and recorded just one out: a sacrifice bunt by Wade (the team’s first sac bunt this season, by the way). The big blows: Aaron Hicks’s two-run homer to make it 5-3 and and LeMahieu’s 2-run double to make it 7-3.

Later, with Nick Vincent in to relieve Tarpley, Voit tallied his league leading 22nd homer of the season to make this one a laugher.

It was good to see this offense break out even if it wasn’t against some of the best pitchers a team has to offer. The Yanks had scored just five runs in the last three games, all losses. A lineup this deep, especially now at full strength, can only be held down for so long though. I’d love to see today be the catalyst for a hot run of hitting into the playoffs.

Deivi García is unshakeable. Another really impressive start from the 21 year-old righty today. Deivi finally took some lumps in his previous start, but bounced back nicely in this one against Miami. Hell, Deivi had to overcome some adversity today too. The Marlins got a ton of breaks in the third inning and scored three runs against García. All you really need to see is this:

That’s a lot of weak contact for three runs to score on. The only ball hit remotely hard was Miguel Rojas’s RBI double, which made it 1-0. But even that wasn’t struck too hard. In fact, it probably should have been a lineout and a double play. Take a look:

The Marlins called for a hit-and-run with Monte Harrison on first. You typically see the second baseman cover second with a right-handed hitter up, but the Yankees had shortstop Tyler Wade break to second instead. I guess they were banking on Rojas trying to go to the right side. But uh, his spray chart for grounders and line drives says otherwise:

It was frustrating to watch the Yankees fall behind 3-0 on a bunch of seeing eye hits, but it clearly didn’t bother García. Deivi pitched into the seventh inning of this one before getting pulled due to a pitch count (103).

The rookie’s final line: 6 2/3 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs, 1 walks, and 7 strikeouts. That 4th run came with Adam Ottavino on the mound, who gave up back-to-back singles upon Deivi’s exit. Anyway, that’s a good line for Deivi although he pitched better than it reflects. He was getting whiffs and soft contact against all of his pitches and had good command too.

Pitch TypeUsage (%)Exit Velo (MPH)Whiffs / Swings
4-Seamer55.389.87 / 30
Changeup14.646.51 /6
Curveball18.477.93 / 9
Slider11.781.82 /5

I’m very happy with how Deivi pitched even with Miami not running out its best lineup. Yes, the Marlins sat Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson, Brian Anderson, and Jesús Aguilar, but you have to like this kind of response from a rookie after his first bad start. It’s no wonder that the team is prepared to hand him the ball for a postseason start. Now it’s just a matter of what game it will be. He’ll be on regular rest for Game 3 of the Wild Card round.

Leftovers

  • Keep your eyes on the scoreboard tonight. The Yankees can clinch the fifth seed if the Orioles beat the Blue Jays tonight. If not, the Yankees will need either another victory or a Blue Jays loss tomorrow.
  • Nice job by Miguel Yajure in the last two innings. He struck out three batters in a row after a walk and single to lead off the eighth inning. He then finished the game off with a scoreless ninth.
  • Every Yankee hitter had a base hit except for Judge, Clint Frazier, Gary Sánchez. Even so, the Judge and Sánchez combined to reach base five times via base on balls. Judge has struggled since returning from the injured list and Gary’s season has been a mess, but it’s good to see them find some way to contribute.
  • Clint’s in a bit of a slump, by the way. He entered today with one hit (a single) and four walks in his last 21 plate appearances. Today: 0-for-3 with a hit by pitch and stolen base.
  • The season finale is tomorrow at 3:05 p.m. EDT. See you then.

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