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  • Revisiting Aaron Hicks and Switch-Hitting

    It appears that the Twins are running out of patience with Aaron Hicks.

    Last year, through 29 games, the outfielder was batting .133/.239/.214. This year, at the same point, his line is .170/.315/.239. While Hicks has shown an improved approach at the plate, he simply is not hitting the ball.

    The Twins took the 24-year-old to task publicly this week, with Ron Gardenhire and Rob Antony both bemoaning his lack of preparation, and it's not the first time they've tried to light a fire under Hicks via media quotes (Antony also called out Hicks during spring training for failing to step up and take hold of the center field job).

    On multiple occasions, Twins officials have hinted that they don't believe Hicks' mental commitment to the game lines up with his considerable talent. But as the athletic specimen continues to flail away from the left side of the plate, I can't help but wonder if his primary issue is simpler than that.

    Batting from the right side against lefties last season, Hicks hit .203/.273/.441 for a .713 OPS that -- while not good -- was respectable enough for a rookie. His overall numbers were dragged down by a horrendous .189/.255/.311 hitting line from the left side.

    After going 0-for-2 against right-handed starter Clay Buchholz on Thursday, Hicks is batting .113 while swinging left-handed this year, with one extra-base hit in 65 plate appearances.

    He ended up delivering the game-winning hit in the 10th inning Thursday, and sure enough he did it while batting righty against southpaw Andrew Miller. Hicks had entered the game hitting .242/.390/.333 against left-handers.

    On his blog this week, La Velle E. Neal III wrote about the club's frustrations with Hicks, stating that the outfielder is on the "hot seat."

    Wow. Couldn't believe Gardenhire and Rob Antony before the game calling out Aaron Hicks for his poor preparation skills. Antony actually said he thinks Hicks goes to the plate without a plan sometimes. It's hard to learn how to be a good major leaguer, but those comments pretty much outed Hicks for his pre-game routine. When things get to this point, it means several people have tried to get Hicks to change his ways, without success.
    If the Twins want Hicks to change his ways, maybe altering his pre-game routine is not the answer. It isn't like he's going up to the plate and completely getting blown away; his 30-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio is actually quite solid. He just isn't doing enough when he puts the ball in play, and that's mostly because he isn't making solid contact on right-handed pitchers, against whom he has a miserable .143 BABIP despite his high-end speed.

    Photo by Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports

    Hicks is a natural right-handed swinger who took up switch-hitting in high school. His numbers from the left were almost always worse in the minors, so the idea of moving him strictly to the right side has been brought up before, but it only seems to make more and more sense as he continues to look drastically worse against righties, who comprise the majority of all pitchers.

    It's a big change. It would probably require heading to the minors and essentially rebuilding his approach. That might take some time, as Hicks hasn't regularly seen right-handed pitching from the right side in probably close to a decade.

    But if the Twins are truly reaching the end of their rope with Hicks, it's worth a shot, right?

    For what it's worth, Hicks strangely told Parker during spring training that if he were ever to give up switch-hitting, he'd probably want to swing from the left side exclusively, adding that he feels more comfortable there at this point.

    "I tend to have more of a plan because Iíve had so much more at bats from the left side, where as right-handed I get 100 at bats a year so I kind of just come out ready to swing," Hicks said.

    Of course, this quote serves as a reminder that perception doesn't always line up with reality. It also seems rather ironic in light of this week's comments from the manager and assistant GM.

    "I donít think he always has a plan--how that guy is going to pitch him, how heís going to be prepared for it" said Antony.

    Nowhere has Hicks appeared to have less of a plan -- or at least, been less able to execute a plan -- than from the left side.
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    Comments 41 Comments
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I'm all for it......
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      Hicks is talented, but he's not that talented that he can play with no game plan or preparation.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Two things about Hicks hitting exclusively righty. Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of all pitchers throw right, so Hicks would be throwing away that advantage. Secondly, lefty hitters have the advantage of being closer to first, in part from where they stand but also because the momentum of a full swing points them at first base. That accounts for beating out hits and double play relays over the course of a season. I am no expert, but my analysis of Hicks is trouble with the breaking ball which would only be exacerbated by having the pitch breaking away from him.

      I believe it is confidence most of all that Hicks lacks and he just needs to master hitting at the right level. I think that level is AAA.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      "Last year, through 29 games, the outfielder was batting .133/.239/.214. This year, at the same point, his line is .170/.315/.239. While Hicks has shown an improved approach at the plate, he simply is not hitting the ball."

      Patience everybody, patience! If these numbers tell us anything, a .037 BA improvment a year means he'll be batting well over .400 in seven years.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      It's a big change. It would probably require heading to the minors and essentially rebuilding his approach. That might take some time, as Hicks hasn't regularly seen right-handed pitching from the right side in probably close to a decade.

      But if the Twins are truly reaching the end of their rope with Hicks, it's worth a shot, right?

      Nowhere has Hicks appeared to have less of a plan -- or at least, been less able to execute a plan -- than from the left side.
      The Twins should have been reaching the end of their rope after Hicks completely crashed in 2013- why wasn't he working on right-hand-only batting beginning last August. and why weren't the Twins more insistent on "reading the riot act" on Hicks, playing, and working on making the switch in winter ball?

      As far as indictment for lack of a plan, how is it that Hicks has been in the organization for 7 years- and it only just occurs to the braintrust now?- ie., that Hicks needs to have a plan? How did they essentially give a guy, who'd repeatedly proven to be a very slow learner, the leadoff spot in 2013, and of course, the critical CF spot, unopposed, not once, but twice?

      As I've stated before, I am of the opinion that they just didn't care enough about Hicks as a long-term cog, and were counting on just getting by with Hicks until Buxton hit the ground running later this year or early 2015.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      "Last year, through 29 games, the outfielder was batting .133/.239/.214. This year, at the same point, his line is .170/.315/.239. While Hicks has shown an improved approach at the plate, he simply is not hitting the ball."

      Patience everybody, patience! If these numbers tell us anything, a .037 BA improvment a year means he'll be batting well over .400 in seven years.
      At this point, do we have any CF that will get on base .315? If we do it won't be by much. Crazy as it sounds, if we lack a real upgrade then maybe you keep him up here and hope it clicks. This is all dependent on him sitting down the Joe Mauer before each game and watching tape on the next pitcher. Hearing the lack of preparation is dissapointing.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      A question:

      How transferrable is discipline really from the minors to the majors? I know that the claim is that it is pretty transferrable, but when the difference is, for instance, pitchers who *can* get the breaking pitches over for strikes vs. those who cannot, then it would seem that adjustments need to be made to maintain that walk rate. Now Hicks has done that, finally (?), in MLB (evidence is his walk rate). He has always been slowish to adjust and actually hit the ball, so I am still not totally worried. I just wish there was an alternative reality where he could spend time righty-only to see how that works for him.
    1. TheDean's Avatar
      TheDean -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      At this point, do we have any CF that will get on base .315? If we do it won't be by much. Crazy as it sounds, if we lack a real upgrade then maybe you keep him up here and hope it clicks. This is all dependent on him sitting down the Joe Mauer before each game and watching tape on the next pitcher. Hearing the lack of preparation is dissapointing.
      You bring up a good point:
      A .076 increase in OBP over his stat line from this time last year? That's pretty decent. Hicks bats at the end of the lineup, and his OBP is his most important offensive attribute for the team right now. He has speed on the basepaths for Dozier, Mauer, and co to drive in.

      That's not to say that he couldn't use some improvement with the bat. Eventually he needs to cultivate some value with a decent SLG (it's pretty deplorable right now), but his game has always included walking. I think we're all biased against low AVG more than we should be. However, average and slugging are connected, and they'll both go up together if he can make better contact.

      .315 is better than PFlo's .194, Herrmann's .190, or even CC's .287. Granted, all of them have earned (or likely will earn in CC's case) demotions. It's possible that Hicks is next.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Hicks will never be a .300+ hitter or solid lead-off man. It's on the Twinkies for not recognizing that and throwing him out there as a 23 yr old, rushing him because they traded away 2 ideal MLB caliber CF/leadoff men. Hitting major league pitching is hard and Hicks might not get it for a few years yet but he's still the best CF on the roster, sadly.

      So what's worse, Hicks approach at the plate or Antony's approach to building a roster?

      I think it's kinda BS he called him out publicly, it's interesting to hear but probably could've been kept in-house. Ripping on the players is our job.
    1. Beezer07's Avatar
      Beezer07 -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of all pitchers throw right, so Hicks would be throwing away that advantage.
      This is actually really important. Right now, Hicks gets a platoon advantage on 100% of his RH at-bats. How will his slash line react to only getting a platoon advantage 1/3 of the time? I'd imagine it'll drop precipitously (from his current RH-only line).
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Hicks' platoon splits as a LH batter are far worse than would be expected from a RH batter facing RH pitchers. That's why people think he should give it up.
    1. twinsguy14's Avatar
      twinsguy14 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      The Twins should have been reaching the end of their rope after Hicks completely crashed in 2013- why wasn't he working on right-hand-only batting beginning last August. and why weren't the Twins more insistent on "reading the riot act" on Hicks, playing, and working on making the switch in winter ball?

      As far as indictment for lack of a plan, how is it that Hicks has been in the organization for 7 years- and it only just occurs to the braintrust now?- ie., that Hicks needs to have a plan? How did they essentially give a guy, who'd repeatedly proven to be a very slow learner, the leadoff spot in 2013, and of course, the critical CF spot, unopposed, not once, but twice?

      As I've stated before, I am of the opinion that they just didn't care enough about Hicks as a long-term cog, and were counting on just getting by with Hicks until Buxton hit the ground running later this year or early 2015.
      . Nobody, absolutely nobody would have or did look at this kids spring training numbers in 2013 and his talent potential and not think he could handle the centerfield job. Everyone commenting on here was in favor. You would have ripped the Twins if they hadn't brought him up and you are ripping them in hindsight now because they did. In this case they had no reason to believe he wasnt going to be at least competent.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I think he should abandon switch hitting. But it was Antony who insisted he continue last spring. I don't know if Antony ever talks to players directly, or he just uses the media. But it's not all on Aaron Hicks that he continues to switch hit. He continues to be coached to do so. It just irks me that they blame players and fail to take any responsibility themselves.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsguy14 View Post
      . Nobody, absolutely nobody would have or did look at this kids spring training numbers in 2013 and his talent potential and not think he could handle the centerfield job. Everyone commenting on here was in favor. You would have ripped the Twins if they hadn't brought him up and you are ripping them in hindsight now because they did. In this case they had no reason to believe he wasnt going to be at least competent.
      Obviously, you weren't around TD in ST 2013. If so, you wouldn't be making the wild and outlandish statements you are asserting here- which are demonstrably not true, if you just go revisit the Hicks threads at the time. Many of us pointed out, in preseason, and during his big Spring Training, of his minor league history, and the troubling aspects therein. And there were multiple discussions about the meaningless of Spring Training numbers in terms of ML predictability.

      The last week of 2013 ST, I essentially said, give him the job- there isn't a realistic alternative, but expect him to be making a couple return trips to the minors- and that is, in fact, exactly what happened. Doesn't make me Nostradamus, but the predictability of what happened does follow the typical path of a rookie, and especially one with Hicks's minor league track record- in point of fact, there were many, many reasons to believe that he might not be ready to play ML CF, let alone bat Leadoff.

      If "everyone" was in favor in 2013 for going with Hicks, it was because the Twins made no effort to go out and get another option, and hence, made a conscious decision, that there was No. Other. Option.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I think he should abandon switch hitting. But it was Antony who insisted he continue last spring. I don't know if Antony ever talks to players directly, or he just uses the media. But it's not all on Aaron Hicks that he continues to switch hit. He continues to be coached to do so. It just irks me that they blame players and fail to take any responsibility themselves.
      Batting left his OPS is .540. Batting right his OPS is .725. I have made this point before, but his dad "challenged" him to switch hit at 11 or 12 as a test to see if he really wanted to play baseball (his dad didn't want him to play baseball because he was beaned). It seemed forced then and forced now. If they send him down, I agree. Why not? Would he be any worse than .540 OPS hitting right against righties?
    1. kblack1011's Avatar
      kblack1011 -
      Hicks needs to go down to the minors and work on his hitting. He has never shown he could hit above AA, so whether he drops switch hitting or not, he has to find himself as a hitter. I can't blame the Twins for starting him at the beginning of last year, I don't think 23 is young for a top prospect (young for the Twins, but not for the league).

      The problem they have is the roster they have built over the last 2 years. And that falls on Ryan not Antony. Antony hasn't help over the last 2 months, but outfield roster has been a mess for the last 2 years. When Hicks struggled early last year, he should have been sent down, but they had no option then either.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Batting left his OPS is .540. Batting right his OPS is .725. I have made this point before, but his dad "challenged" him to switch hit at 11 or 12 as a test to see if he really wanted to play baseball (his dad didn't want him to play baseball because he was beaned). It seemed forced then and forced now. If they send him down, I agree. Why not? Would he be any worse than .540 OPS hitting right against righties?
      I agree with this logic and always have. I just don't care for the way this organization has handled him. If they think he shouldn't switch hit, tell him to stop switch hitting, send him down to get used to hitting exclusively from the right side, and get on with it. Antony's attitude is to blame players for their lack of ambition or preparation or approach or whatever, and to do it publicly. In the process, the player feels like crap and Antony just comes off as a self-righteous jerk.

      Episode 1126 in the continuing saga of the PR intern who went to scout camp and became a Peter Principle Poster Child. I wonder how many times he had to wash Jim Pohlad's car to get this job.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      I don't think Hicks needs to stop switch-hitting, he just needs to be less selective when he gets two strikes. His walk rate this season is great, up almost 10% from his career rate and he's getting on base more than 30% of the time despite a terrible BABIP as a lefty. Yes, his BA looks terrible, but I think when you get beyond that things aren't nearly as bad as the BA would lead you to believe.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I agree with this logic and always have. I just don't care for the way this organization has handled him. If they think he shouldn't switch hit, tell him to stop switch hitting, send him down to get used to hitting exclusively from the right side, and get on with it. Antony's attitude is to blame players for their lack of ambition or preparation or approach or whatever, and to do it publicly. In the process, the player feels like crap and Antony just comes off as a self-righteous jerk.

      Episode 1126 in the continuing saga of the PR intern who went to scout camp and became a Peter Principle Poster Child. I wonder how many times he had to wash Jim Pohlad's car to get this job.
      PPPC Car Polisher, huh? Brilliantly, brutally honest enough for some bannin' activities, methinks.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Lets everyone stick to the topic of Hicks, please, and off unwarranted attacks on team officials or discussion of moderators.
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