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  • Time For Hicks to Make a Switch?

    Since returning to the minor leagues after his demotion in early August, Aaron Hicks has batted .417. Well, from the right side anyway.

    Unfortunately, he's only had 12 at-bats from that side because in Triple-A, like in the majors, the vast majority of pitchers are right-handers. And righties force the switch-hitting center fielder to the opposite batter's box, where he has posted a miserable .287 OPS in Rochester. Yuck.

    Overall, between the majors and minors this year, Hicks has hit a respectable .239/.313/.451 as a righty and a dreadful .172/.240/.275 as a lefty. That's a difference of 250 points in OPS, and the stats are backed up by observational evidence. Hicks is natural right-handed hitter who took up switch-hitting in high school, and his swing is clearly far more smooth and strong from the right. Yet, the composition of pitchers in the league has him swinging from his far weaker side more than 75 percent of the time.

    This year has been such an utter disaster for Hicks that the Twins need to consider shaking things up to get him back on track. Eliminating his switch-hitting approach would be drastic and would essentially call for reinventing him as a hitter, but the need to do so is becoming increasingly apparent.

    Last year, at Double-A, Hicks acquitted himself quite well from the left side, hitting .287/.393/.434 for an .828 OPS that was nearly on par with his outstanding .881 mark from the right. But in previous years the outfielder has consistently struggled to inflict damage against right-handed pitchers, leading to his drop-off on prospect lists (Hicks went from being ranked the No. 19 prospect by Baseball America in 2010 to No. 72 this spring).

    In 2011, at Ft. Myers, Hicks batted .230 and slugged .356 from the left side, as opposed to .263 and .401 from the right. In 2010, at Beloit, he hit .248 and slugged .339 from the left while crushing to the tune of .362 and .664 from the right. His inability to hit with authority against righties certainly helps explain the slide in prospect status over the past three years, and was extremely evident during an ugly rookie season in the majors.

    Ostensibly, batting lefty against right-handed pitchers is beneficial for Hicks, providing him with a better look at incoming pitches. But his inferior swing from that side seemingly negates any gained advantages. It's really difficult to imagine him performing worse against righties while swinging out of the right-handed batter's box. How much worse can it get?

    The list of players who have given up switch-hitting this deep into their careers is rather short. The Orioles talked about doing it with 28-year-old former Twin Alexi Casilla earlier this season, but it never happened. Implementing such a dramatic change for a player who has been playing the game a certain way professionally for six years is an imposing proposition, and perhaps the adjustment would be too daunting for the Twins to even attempt, but it is frustrating seeing Hicks' offensive game so limited by being forced to take the vast majority of his at-bats from an unnatural and inferior stance.
    This article was originally published in blog: Time For Hicks to Make a Switch? started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 50 Comments
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Learning to hit right-handed pitching from the right side is going to be a major adjustment. Why on earth do we want Hicks going through a major adjustment in 2014? That's another guaranteed lost season for him, or at least half a season . . . if it even works out at all in any way that makes him better from the right side than the left side.

      Here's an idea: admit that the Twins really messed with him and his rather natural path of development . . . one damn level at a time, which isn't such a crazy idea! He was AAA prepared for major league baseball, and he probably would have been only around a .700 OPS with a full season at AAA.

      I am going to expect a .700 OPS with the full season with the Twins in 2014.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Should have happened 2 years ago. If his arrival is pushed out a year, but he's actually good, that might be a good idea......but this is a great example of being conservative, don't change anything, even if it isn't working.
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      ......but this is a great example of being conservative, don't change anything, even if it isn't working.
      True.

      I get that batting as a RH against RH pitchers is going to suck, but it likely won't be worse than what he is getting now.

      Either that or have him pitch. And I'm not kidding.
      The way he's going now he does not belong on a Major League roster. (and I really like the kid)
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Have people forgotten the trajectory and performances year-to-year in the minors for Aaron Hicks? People are *this* down on him even though he clearly didn't belong in MLB for 2013? Granted he didn't need an extra year to figure out AA, but that one time occurrence in his career (!) didn't warrant *skipping* a level. The Twins were patient with him, then they really weren't patient and jumped him a level. I think being patient with him is a good idea. Projecting 2013 forward in such a negative way as to consider ending his switch-hitting!?
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      This isn't really about his performance this year, Shane. Hicks has been dreadfully bad hitting from the left side at almost every level.
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      .... but that one time occurrence in his career (!) didn't warrant *skipping* a level. The Twins were patient with him, then they really weren't patient and jumped him a level.
      No argument here, Shane, but a .447 OPS? He may need a full year of AAA. That wouldn't be all bad, maybe, but we should have a crowded outfield soon after that.

      Absolutely agree that his history did not suggest that skipping a level would go well. But Joe Benson played poorly, Mastro got hurt and Hicks hit and fielded (in ST) like he was ready. Cannot fault the Twins for starting the year with him in CF.
    1. twinsin17's Avatar
      twinsin17 -
      Hicks should definitely drop LH hitting. Improving from a .447 OPS vs. righties is almost a given. Or maybe they should platoon him - RP when we face a righty and in the lineup vs. lefties. The chance of watching a position player pitch would put fans in the seats!
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      That headline was a tease. I thought we were going to discuss putting Hicks back on the mound.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Shane, given that I said "should have happened 2 years ago".....it should be obvious I am not thinking about 2013....
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Here's an idea: admit that the Twins really messed with him and his rather natural path of development . . . one damn level at a time, which isn't such a crazy idea!
      Another possibility: Hicks failed as an MLBer because he's not an MLB talent.
    1. jareddejong42's Avatar
      jareddejong42 -
      Has anybody seen what Shane Victorino has done over the past couple weeks since a hamstring injury relegated him to give up switch hitting? Of course this is a small sample size, but could be considered hope that a change for Hicks could be a good thing.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Learning to hit right-handed pitching from the right side is going to be a major adjustment. Why on earth do we want Hicks going through a major adjustment in 2014? That's another guaranteed lost season for him, or at least half a season . . . if it even works out at all in any way that makes him better from the right side than the left side...
      If it will happen (and should happen) will not be in 2014. It will be in a Caribbean Winter league, maybe supplemented with instructs and will continue in ST.

      Since he is hitting RH anyways, there will be no mechanical adjustments, just learning how to pick up the ball off a RHP's hand. And this can be done in a batting cage. And as a matter of fact, he has already been hitting as a righty off righties during BP, when the next team starts a LHP. Not that huge of an adjustment.

      I think that it is overdue in a lot of respects and I am surprised that the Twins (being such a LHB-rich team) did not make the switch earlier. But remember who the MiLB Director was...
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I think we are overestimating the challange of hitting right-handed vs. right-handed pitchers. Sure there will be an adjustment but it's not like his swing would need to be reworked. It would simply be adjusting to a different angle and picking up the pitch from a different release point. I don't see how it would be all that different than learning how to hit off a side-armed pitcher or a pitcher that often changes arm angles and is good at hiding the ball until it is released.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      At this point, no, no, a thousand times no. If Hicks were hitting from his "strong" side 75% of the time and he had to piece together at-bats occasionally facing the same handed pitcher, it might be different. Also, if he was forfeiting batting right handed which costs a number of infield hits for a fast guy, it also might be something to consider. Further Hicks has been switch hitting exclusively for six or seven years. It would take years to catch up again. Hicks' history has been to struggle early and then catch up and the left side catches up last. I still have confidence that Hicks will be a good ballplayer and contributor when the Twins are good again and if he is, it will be as a switch hitter. Break is over. More to say later.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Further Hicks has been switch hitting exclusively for six or seven years. It would take years to catch up again.
      To "catch up" to what? A .500 OPS?
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      Let him pitch. Never mind we have so much quality pitching we don't need more. As far as it goes he could pitch and still play in the field worked for Babe Ruth how hard can it be?
    1. twinsin17's Avatar
      twinsin17 -
      We're not asking to have him learn to throw left handed here. We just want him to do what he has proven to do more successfully (bat RH vs LH) more often. I don't think that idea is too far fetched.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I don't see why he cannot just try it for a few weeks and see what happens. If this is something he can adjust to easily, there would be a noticable performance jump, which could justify continuing the experiment. That won't forestall any of his development. If it fails, then you decide.
    1. Don Julio's Avatar
      Don Julio -
      If I remember correctly, Hick's dad didn't want him to play baseball and only allowed him to play if he switch-hit. I believe it had something to do with a beaning his dad had in the minors.
    1. darin617's Avatar
      darin617 -
      I thought was going to about changing him into a pitcher, not to become a full time righty.
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