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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. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      Here's a question. How bad would Hicks have to be from the left side before the Twins directed him to stop switch hitting altogether, especially when Hicks says he feels more comfortable from that side, a side that he sees 70% of his ABs from?
    1. drock2190's Avatar
      drock2190 -
      Call me a pessimist but I dont see Hicks being anything other then a 4th outfielder in the future. He's only had two decent seasons that he batted very well and they were both fueled by high BABIP which happens a lot in the minors but not the majors unless your a talented player. Make matters worse the highest ISO hes had was .173 the year he did well in Double AA.

      Looking back that draft year was pretty bad especially the first round. The best players are Buster Posey, Eric Hosmer and Andrew Cashner. Cashner would have been a nice pick.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beezer07 View Post
      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).
      Some right handers actually hit better against right handed pitchers. I know Gaetti was like that. I never hit lefties well myself, and I was a decent left handed hitter when I wanted to. But I had no power from the left side, so I only batted right, and I hit better against righties than lefties. I think that's typical for natural right-handed hitters like Hicks.

      I don't have the data in front of me, but it seems like platoon disadvantage is more of a left-handed thing. In other words, lefties struggle more in general with lefties than they do with righties. But they see so few lefties that they hit well overall. Jacque Jones is an example. On the other hand, righties who struggle against righties don't stay in the game, because nobody can justify a guy who can just hit right handed against lefties. Though righties hit better against lefties, they have to be at least competent against righties or they will not stay in the game. Matt LeCroy is exhibit A. Trevor Plouffe is on the cusp.
    1. drock2190's Avatar
      drock2190 -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      But they see so few lefties that they hit well overall. Jacque Jones is an example.
      Career batting average versus righties: .289 Lefties: 233

      I think its safe to say he didnt hit very well overall. Of course for hicks that would be an excellent average
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      If Hicks were to give up switch-hitting there is a real good chance that he will still have a severe platoon split and would be labeled a part-time player. I am not an expert, but I don't see anything fundamentally wrong with his left handed swing. I do see Hicks having problems with breaking balls and having the ball break away from him would make the problem worse.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by drock2190 View Post
      Career batting average versus righties: .289 Lefties: 233

      I think its safe to say he didnt hit very well overall. Of course for hicks that would be an excellent average
      Batting average splits tell us something, but a lot of the time, not everything. There are several guys who put up decent averages but have no extra-base pop against same-handed pitchers.
    1. longstrangetrip's Avatar
      longstrangetrip -
      Good discussion of a topic clearly worthy of discussion. The delta between his RHB and LHB numbers is too large to ignore.

      I'm much more troubled, though, by the comments this week about his lack of preparation. It is astounding to me that a big league ballplayer would show up not knowing who the opposition pitcher is...just astounding. To me it hints at a lack of passion for the game. I would venture to guess that well over 75 % of the participants on this board generally know in the morning who is going to be on the bump against the Twins that night. And that's because we have a passion for the game. Baseball is a cerebral game, and it's fun to think about strategy and matchups, and how you're going to beat a guy. I guess I always assumed major leaguers thrived on that kind of thinking too, but it's clear Aaron doesn't.

      I'm 63 years young tomorrow, and grateful that I can still play this game I love twice a week...don't want to even think about hanging up my spikes for the last time. My next game is Sunday morning, and I know who is pitching and am already thinking about his patterns and tendencies. Sometime tomorrow I will review notes I keep about at bats I have had against him in the past, and even put some thought into their key relievers. And I will show up Sunday morning with a plan. Shouldn't we expect the same from Hicksy?
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      First of all, Happy Birthday! LST. Secondly, I am glad that you are able to play baseball at 63. I love to golf and this year I've been limited to 9 holes all year and I'm afraid that might be it for the season if not my career. Regarding Hicks--We are interpreting an anecdote into a whole pattern. It may well be that Hicks never is aware of who is pitching, but I doubt it. I have said that I think the team is setting the table to send him down and using this perception of lack of preparation rather than inability to hit. Maybe it is just the frustration--bad performance with little outward sign that he's trying to address the problem--that drove the brass to disclose the behind-the-scenes goings-on.
    1. longstrangetrip's Avatar
      longstrangetrip -
      You're probably right, stringer...either a precursor to sending him down or one final attempt to fire him up.

      Thanks for the birthday greetings! And by the way, even though I'm still playing ball, I had to put away my golf clubs 3 years ago. It was too tough on the lower back for me, and it hurt to swing a club...swinging a bat seems more natural to me. Oh well...I loved the game, but to be honest I was never a good golfer. I hope you're able to find a miracle cure for whatever is keeping you off the links.
    1. twinsfaninsaudi's Avatar
      twinsfaninsaudi -
      Critical question:

      Does he golf left handed or right handed?
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beezer07 View Post
      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?
      That's not really the right thing to compare. He will still have the platoon advantage in all of the AB vs. LHP because that will be unchanged. The question is will he hit RHP better batting righthanded than he does now batting lefthanded.

      He has been so bad with the platoon advantage vs. RHP that it's hard to see him doing worse without it, and it might actually help his line against LHP by giving him more swings from the right side.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfaninsaudi View Post
      Critical question:

      Does he golf left handed or right handed?
      Dogleg left or right?
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfaninsaudi View Post
      Critical question:

      Does he golf left handed or right handed?
      yes.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Back to the original topic: I would be very interested if someone has a breakdown of Hicks' swing from both sides and see if there is anything that stands out why he has clearly been a better right handed hitter. I am not an expert, but I just don't see anything that makes him that much worse as a left hander.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      Back to the original topic: I would be very interested if someone has a breakdown of Hicks' swing from both sides and see if there is anything that stands out why he has clearly been a better right handed hitter. I am not an expert, but I just don't see anything that makes him that much worse as a left hander.
      Lack of enough innate ambi-dexterity?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      First of all, Happy Birthday! LST. Secondly, I am glad that you are able to play baseball at 63. I love to golf and this year I've been limited to 9 holes all year and I'm afraid that might be it for the season if not my career. Regarding Hicks--We are interpreting an anecdote into a whole pattern. It may well be that Hicks never is aware of who is pitching, but I doubt it. I have said that I think the team is setting the table to send him down and using this perception of lack of preparation rather than inability to hit. Maybe it is just the frustration--bad performance with little outward sign that he's trying to address the problem--that drove the brass to disclose the behind-the-scenes goings-on.
      Berardino said he often talks to Hicks about the next pitcher or two. Hicks not only knows him, he has a plan. The whole preparation thing is comparable to Bartlett's leadership thing. It's just Gardy attributing bad habits to guys who are not hyperactive ADD guys like himself. Antony amplifying Gardy's stuff, after Gardy talked privately to the player is not only wrong, it's completely unwarranted.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      First of all, Happy Birthday! LST. Secondly, I am glad that you are able to play baseball at 63. I love to golf and this year I've been limited to 9 holes all year and I'm afraid that might be it for the season if not my career. Regarding Hicks--We are interpreting an anecdote into a whole pattern. It may well be that Hicks never is aware of who is pitching, but I doubt it. I have said that I think the team is setting the table to send him down and using this perception of lack of preparation rather than inability to hit. Maybe it is just the frustration--bad performance with little outward sign that he's trying to address the problem--that drove the brass to disclose the behind-the-scenes goings-on.
      You put your finger on the issue that I have been searching for. Airing dirty laundry is nothing new, but typically the subjects are particular and who makes the statement even more so. Showing up to the ballpark "unprepared" is typically not mentioned, certainly not by the acting GM. That's as much an indictment of the GM and coaching staff as it is of Hicks. His prep skills have been his own throughout his career. It's not like he developed a bad habit of lack of prep in 2014. Usually the manager or hitting coach would say "Hicksy is scuffling a little bit, we'll get him a day off and some extra time in the cage to see if we can't straighten it out". For Antony to come out and say he's too laid back and unprepared points to something more. (Wrong with Hicks or in the plans to do with him)
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Berardino said he often talks to Hicks about the next pitcher or two. Hicks not only knows him, he has a plan. The whole preparation thing is comparable to Bartlett's leadership thing. It's just Gardy attributing bad habits to guys who are not hyperactive ADD guys like himself. Antony amplifying Gardy's stuff, after Gardy talked privately to the player is not only wrong, it's completely unwarranted.

      Spot on.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      If hitting from the left side is an advantage because the batter is closer to 1st base then the advantage should be taken for all it is worth. Batting left, Hicks should be bunting at least once a game. I would bet he could add 50 points to his average doing that alone.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      This is a roughly accurate, admittedly not 100% stat break down for consideration. Read a lot of posts pertaining to Hicks, he is definitely a hot topic, and grew very curious about some numbers. Just some comparable numbers to chew on, digest and ponder.

      Player A. 5 primary season in the minors: 275/380/426/806 Ages 18-22
      Player B. 3 primary seasons in the minors: 277/345/397/742 Ages 19-21
      Player C. 7 primary seasons in the minors: 269/334/418/752 Ages 18-24
      *Player C's stats somewhat skewed by a big half season plus after milb demotion

      As intelligent and well informed as everyone is here at TD, I'm sure most can recognize a pattern here, all three players having played with the Twins previously, and probably even some very good guesses who the players might be.

      Player A: Hicks
      Player B: Carlos Gomez
      Player C: Torii Hunter

      Now, SB wise, Gomez blows Hicks and Hunter away. Otherwise, as milb numbers go, Hicks's milb career rates ahead of the other former Twins in virtually every category. Is this a be-all tell-all? Absolutely not. But every prospect starts somewhere. And I think this comparison is important as people blast and rally against a still very young and inexperienced Hicks. Further, for better or worse, Gomez was promoted very early, seeing extensive action as a 22y.o. I've read arguements how he compares better to Hicks due to said early promotion. Considering the results, I have to disagree at this being a positive. For what it's worth, his composite numbers for those 4 seasons, ages 22-25 were:
      240/289/364/654 with his best season being the first.

      Not exactly earth shattering. Hunter's first 2 seasons, comparable at age 24&25 were: 268/314/394/708 with his second season numbers better than his first.

      Hicks' first season: 192/259/338/597
      So far this season: 198/339/271/610

      Nothing about this is meant to excuse the Twins for not addressing alternatives for the CF situation last season and this one. Nor is it meant as a precursor that Hicks will also achieve future all-star status. And it is definitely no excuse for Hicks not to work or prepare properly as has been pointed out be Gardy.

      However, it is interesting to remember how Gomez struggled his first few years, as did Hunter, like Hicks, being sent down to the minors after his initial ML appearance. In fact Hunter and Hicks might be a better comparison in regard to promotion and demotion.

      And as last reminder, Hicks was promoted, certainly too early, after his AA season. (Quality though it may have been) And again, milb numbers are a guide but not a guarantee. But I find it interesting that Hicks, a former top 100 prospect, deemed untouchable as recent as 2012, had better overall milb stats than Hunter or Gomez.

      Yes he needs work offensive and defensively. But the recent re-post of cutting Dozier at this time last year, coupled with these numbers here, might offer up some perspective that frustration should be tempered with some patience as well.
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