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  • Are we giving Aaron Hicks a raw deal?

    Iím not in love with Aaron Hicks. I canít disagree with Rob Antony and Ron Gardenhireís critique of his preparation, and Iíve always been an unabashed Denard Span guy. (Note: I'm hugely excited that he ended up in DC, where I live now). But I do think we (the Twins-loving public) have been giving Hicks a raw deal by bashing the year heís having.

    First off, the easy part: letís look at his on-base percentage (OBP). I noticed today that, of the 32 major league center fielders that have 100+ plate appearances, Hicks is actually in the top half with an OBP of .339. Thatís well above league average and good for 14th out of those 32. In spite of the batting average thatís been getting all the attention, this is certainly not the Aaron Hicks of last year, who got on base at a .259 rate.

    Now, granted, he isnít hitting for any power, as shown by his almost Revere-ish .073 ISO, but for a guy in the 8 or 9 hole, most teams would take an above league-average on-base guy any day, power or not. Speaking of Ben Revere, I should note that both he and (gasp) Denard Span sit well behind Hicks in the OBP rankings, at .287 and .284 respectively. Even if you take a look at wOBA, which factors in power numbers, you still donít have Hicks as far down the rankings as you might think when looking at his batting average: 23rd out of 32 with a .290 wOBA.

    Next, Hicksí BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is substantially lower than any guy with his kind of speed has any business maintaining. If we take a look at his batted ball rates, we see part of the issue. Heís hitting grounders 53.8% of the time (league average 45.6%) and hitting line drives only 16.9% of the time (league average 20.2%). But, even normalizing his batting average based on league average BABIP for those different batted ball rates, heíd be batting closer to the .230 mark than the .198 mark heís showing now. (Note: Iíll be putting out another entry in the next few days explaining how I calculated this). And thatís assuming he continues grounding the ball so often and lining the ball so rarely, which both seem unlikely.

    Also of note, for a guy whoís shown a history some pop, Hicks has a HR/FB rate of only 5.3% (league average 10.1%). This tends to normalize to career average over a full season, so I would assume that a few more of these fly balls will be finding the seats, particularly as the Twins spend more games away from Target Field between now and the All-Star break.

    Now, Iím not saying Hicks is the top-of-the-order guy the fan base (and organization) wanted him to be when he took the centerfield job last spring. But I do think if he continues to improve on defense and his offense starts normalizing, he can be the fairly-decent placeholder for the Byron Buxton era that this team needs. A little prep work can go a long way, and if what Gardy and Antony are saying is true, Hicks could see substantial improvement on his strikeout rate and overall batting average by putting in a bit more time in the clubhouse.

    And, after all, letís not forget that heís only 24.

    Agree? Disagree? ďNew Breed Stat GuysĒ nonsense, as Bob Ryan would say?
    Comments 55 Comments
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Well done article! Thanks!

      I'm with you on the on-base percentage. Call him passive or whatever, but he is getting on base.

      The BABIP... I'm not sure. Not a lot of his contact early in the season was very hard, so I think that as/if he starts hitting the ball with more authority, that number should go up, as should the HR/FB% At least we can hope.

      The defense has not be great, but I don't think it's too terrible either.

      But, the batting average does stand out and is hard for most people to ignore.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      As you touched on with GB rate, I think his BABIP has to do with bad contact, which also results in low ISO power.

      The OBP is great but simply put, Hicks needs to square up on the ball more often. Can he do it?

      *shrugs*

      And BTW, right now Hicks has a higher OPS+ than Revere or Presley. He was marginally higher than Span until last night's game.

      Tis a strange game, baseball is.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I just think he deserves a little patience. He's a notorious slow starter throughout his career. He's starting to show signs of breaking out of (yet another) early season slump. He needs to make better contact, for sure. But his ability is much higher than what he has shown so far. I hope they let him play for a while and see how it goes.
    1. kdrupp09's Avatar
      kdrupp09 -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I just think he deserves a little patience. He's a notorious slow starter throughout his career. He's starting to show signs of breaking out of (yet another) early season slump. He needs to make better contact, for sure. But his ability is much higher than what he has shown so far. I hope they let him play for a while and see how it goes.
      Hopefully he is doing just what is said in this quote, breaking out. If he can get his BA up to .220-.230 area I think that is ok for the time being.
    1. SpiritofVodkaDave's Avatar
      SpiritofVodkaDave -
      Hicks almost has as many walks this year as he did all of last year, that is extremely encouraging and shows he is not swinging at bad pitches, he has all the tools to be successful, at this point it may be a confidence or bad luck thing more than anything else. Ultimately I think he will be fine, he should absolutely stay as the starting CF until Buxton is ready, and at that point hopefully he will be a nice option for us as a LF.

      Also in his last 15 games (I know I know SSS) he has picked it up a bit with a .238 BA and .742 OPS

      Likely the average and power will come up (as he has shown in his minor league abilities and even his power last year) I would be shocked if he can't hit .250 from here on out the rest of the year (Which would end the season around .225 I believe?). The key will be if he can keep his walk rate up, if he can, we might be looking at a guy who could potentially give us a .250/.370/.360 slash line the rest of this season.

      Also he is only 24...still plenty of time.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      Well done article! Thanks!

      I'm with you on the on-base percentage. Call him passive or whatever, but he is getting on base.

      The BABIP... I'm not sure. Not a lot of his contact early in the season was very hard, so I think that as/if he starts hitting the ball with more authority, that number should go up, as should the HR/FB% At least we can hope.

      The defense has not be great, but I don't think it's too terrible either.

      But, the batting average does stand out and is hard for most people to ignore.
      FWIW, Hicks DRS ranks 17th of 21 qualified CFers, while his UZR ranks him 18th of 21. "Not terrible"? Let's just say "not good", then.

      As far as his alleged "May resurgence" at the plate goes (per post #7 above)....for the month, his .592 OPS ranks him 29th among CFers. For the season, he actually has a slightly higher OPS (.595) overall.

      As far as the BB% goes, it just seems a matter of time before his numbers start to fall from this year's 16.8%, towards his 2013 BB% of 7.7%, as pitchers adjust. Hicks will have to change his passive ways, or the OBP will inevitably fall.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by kdrupp09 View Post
      Hopefully he is doing just what is said in this quote, breaking out. If he can get his BA up to .220-.230 area I think that is ok for the time being.
      If he hits .230 with this walk rate, he could be leading off with a .370 OBP. I am guessing the defense will improve and you have a pretty decent to good CF.
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      Very Nice Read;
      That being said - I keep reading that Hicks has been asked to put in more work in the clubhouse watching film of pitchers he is about to face and look for tendencies. Why then do they (Twins) not film games at the minor league levels and have players prepare the same way. If they don't have film to research opponents (budget), understood, but to not film every game for players to analyze themselves is crazy. I heard that players are sometimes / periodically filmed individually so they can analyze thier swings at the lower levels. That would seem to be an inexpensive NEED at the lower levels so that players can learn how to learn off film and make the neccessary corrections. Coaches teach off film everyday in high school. You would think with these $6 million dollar and below prospects that it would be important to TEACH players about themselves beyond hearing what to do. There is nothing like seeing your faults and making corrections. Why wait until they reach the MLB. I fault the organization for it's lack of preparation on how to prepare these players to prepare. THOUGHTS....................
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      I said the above to say, that Aaron Hicks should have been forced to prepare properly many seasons ago in the minor leagues. It should be like putting pine tar on your bat in the on deck circle - Natural - "It's just what we do" philosophy (and learned early in their career).
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      I'm not sure why pitchers have put him on so much, but I seriously doubt it's going to continue. Low-batting average, good OBP hitters are pretty much all power guys... can't think of a single exception. Hicks will either start hitting the ball with authority or his OBP will sink, and take his job with it.
    1. twinsfan214's Avatar
      twinsfan214 -
      Hicks is getting on via walks but also seems to be striking out a lot. It seems like he takes way too many pitches when he has two strikes. Just like with preparation, some pieces are missing with "how he goes about his business". As for using the age card, I remember another player who never lived up to the hype who everyone kept saying "remember, he's only (insert age here)". Delmon Young.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I don't buy the thing about preparation. He works hard. He studies film. He takes extra batting practice. I actually think he overthinks stuff. He could benefit from relaxing and letting his natural ability do some of the work. He needs to start having fun.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by drivlikejehu View Post
      I'm not sure why pitchers have put him on so much, but I seriously doubt it's going to continue. Low-batting average, good OBP hitters are pretty much all power guys... can't think of a single exception. Hicks will either start hitting the ball with authority or his OBP will sink, and take his job with it.
      He's taking six and seven-pitch at bats. Fouling pitches off. Working counts. He's working for his walks. I watch about every game on Gameday and his at bats are some of the longest on the team.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      He's taking six and seven-pitch at bats. Fouling pitches off. Working counts. He's working for his walks. I watch about every game on Gameday and his at bats are some of the longest on the team.
      Hicks at is 4.19 pitches per plate appearance, behind Kubel and Mauer and ahead of Dozier, Plouffe, and Suzuki. All six are over 4 pitches per PA.

      This team takes a lot of pitches.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      If he hits .230 with this walk rate, he could be leading off with a .370 OBP. I am guessing the defense will improve and you have a pretty decent to good CF.
      It's funny, a year ago at this time, your post is nearly identical to many which appeared in similar threads....a lot of "ifs" and "guessing", as borne out last year..... lots of wishcasting rather than forecasting.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      I think part of the frustration with Hicks is that we had another huge hole in the lineup with Florimon so we basically had 2 automatic outs in the lineup and with Florimon demoted Hicks gets even more attention now. Escobar is hitting .300+ and with Hicks at least walking his way to first (I guess that's easer than running) Its like we now have only half a hole in the lineup.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Hicks at is 4.19 pitches per plate appearance, behind Kubel and Mauer and ahead of Dozier, Plouffe, and Suzuki. All six are over 4 pitches per PA.

      This team takes a lot of pitches.
      I am just guessing here but I would say last year's team did not take lot of pitches. The pitch per plate appearance may have still been high because it takes at least 3 pitches to strike a guy out and we struck out a lot. Taking a lot of pitches is a good thing Not only do you get more walks but pitchers have to come into the zone more often resulting in better pitches to hit overall. I always said that Revere was worthwhile if he got on base at a .330 clip and good at .350 or better. Hicks has been on base at .350 this month. His current clip of .331 would have been 3rd on last year's team. Pitcher's will adjust so I agree he has to do whatever it takes to keep that OBP up. If its by hitting a few homers so they have to be careful or if it means bunting more, whatever it takes. He is playing pretty well right now so give it a rest for a while.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      [QUOTE=jokin;231138]It's funny, a year ago at this time, your post is nearly identical to many which appeared in similar threads....a lot of "ifs" and "guessing", lots of wishcasting rather than forecasting.[/QUOTE

      True, but by almost any measure, OBP, BA, BB rate, even slugging his numbers are way ahead of where he was last year (as CMAT noted, he is a slow starter)

      My forecast is his BA ends up in the .225 to .235 range. His walk rate will fall, but his hits will go up more than his BB go down. I think we will see the slugging come up.

      My prediction is he ends with a .230/.345/.325 line.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      I'm hoping Parmalee;s aggressiveness will impress Hicks and inspire him to be more aggressive. I'd trade a couple of those walks for a double now and then.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      It's funny, a year ago at this time, your post is nearly identical to many which appeared in similar threads....a lot of "ifs" and "guessing", as borne out last year..... lots of wishcasting rather than forecasting.
      It would all make more sense if they had just been more patient last year. They were out of contention. He had actually made a lot of adjustments. He got hurt and struggled when he returned, so they sent him down. Bad decision. It wasn't like his replacements set the world on fire, but they lost the opportunity of learning whether or not he should start this year in the majors, or he needed more AAA seasoning time. Now we're in the same boat. Don't make the same mistake again.
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