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Are we giving Aaron Hicks a raw deal?


Greg Logan

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I’ll start by saying that I’m not an Aaron Hicks lover. I can’t disagree with Rob Antony and Ron Gardenhire’s critique of his preparation, and I’ve always been an unabashed Denard Span guy (note: 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 he’s having.

 

First off, the easy part: let’s look at his 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. That’s well above league average and good for 14th out of those 32. In spite of the batting average that’s 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 isn’t hitting for any power, as shown by his almost Revere-ish .073 ISO, but for a guy in the 8 or 9 hole in the lineup, 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 don’t 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, Hicks’ BABIP 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. He’s 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, he’d be batting closer to the .230 mark than the .198 mark he’s showing now. (Note: I’ll be putting out another entry in the next few days explaining how I calculated this). And that’s assuming he continues grounding the ball so often and lining the ball so rarely, which both seem unlikely.

 

Also of note, for a guy who’s 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, I’m not saying Hicks is the top-of-the-order guy the fanbase wanted him to be when he took the CF 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 K% and overall batting average by putting in a bit more time in the clubhouse.

 

And, after all, let’s not forget that he’s only 24.

 

Agree? Disagree? “New Breed Stat Guys” nonsense, as Bob Ryan would say?

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I hope Aaron Hicks has a nice year and increases his value enough to be traded for something useful. I am not really down on Hicks, but I don't think his bat will play at anything but center and that will be occupied by Byron Buxton soon enough. A couple of myths continue about Hicks. Is he fast? Not Revere or Buxton fast for sure. I don't think he is as fast as Denard either. further, and more to the point, his great arm and good speed don't make him a good defender, at least not yet. Finally, in terms of hitting, Hicks has one of the lower averages of any player after his first 400 plate appearances. Yes, the OBP looks OK and he showed a couple flashes of power last year, but an OPS of .602 and OPS+ of 68 aren't good enough for a young player to stay in the majors. Hicks has shown some signs of improvement. I hope they are substantial and not just a fortunate streak.

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I agree with Stringer. His fielding is not good enough. High OBP predicated on the walk, with .198 BA says his BA should come up to Mendoza and his OBP should come down quite a bit. Why not challenge a .198 hitter? NL rule: Never ever walk the pitcher.

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Nice work by the OP, you raised some good points about how Hicks' season is going.

 

But for the moment my tent is still in the stringer/Sconnie camp. There are definitely some signs of improvement at the plate. But defense remains a work in progress at best, and as Sconnie pointed out, guys in the low .200's or worse, especially with little power, usually have trouble sustaining a walk rate like Hicksie's.

 

And like stringer mentioned, he's on a Road Less Traveled to major league success if that's his destiny. Rooting for him and hope he continues to get regular playing time, in MN or The Other Rochester based on what's best for him and not the organization's 2014.

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I agree with you folks to an extent. I agree that he likely won't get back to his minor league offensive numbers, but I also think its reasonable to expect his average to normalize to a .230-.250 range with decent walk rate. If his walk rate settles down to his minor league rate (14.7%) and he's able to boost his LD% even slightly, that equates to about a .225 BA and a .325 OBP. Without any alternatives, I can settle for a .325 OBP at the back of the lineup until Buxton is ready to take over CF.

 

I focused this article on his offense to keep it brief, but I'm on the same page with the three of you that his defense is troubling. The angles he's been taking to balls in the field and the (perceived?) lack of hustle makes it hard to see the defensive upside we thought he had. It's also hard for me to tell whether he isn't going full speed on defense in some cases or if it only looks that way because of his longer strides.

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Yes.

 

At this point, yes.

 

Wish I could copy and paste some interesting stats to provide perspective and thoughts I posted on another thread. They reside in the Hicks switch hitting thread if interested.

 

Its just to early to rush to judgement when he's learning and was jumped straight from AA.

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Yes.

 

At this point' date=' yes.

 

QUOTE']

 

He has been better than last year at this time:

 

5/20/13 .144 BA, .239 OBP, .256 slugging, .445 OPS. .42 BB for every K, 11.5% of his PA have been a BB

 

5/20/14 .192 BA, .331 OBP, .262 slugging, .593 OPS, .67 BB to every K, 17.29% of his PA have been a BB

 

So to those that suggest he is just praying for walks, his BA and walk rate have improved dramaticaly. It looks like to me he is having better at bats.

His BA right now is about where he ended last year, with a huge improvement in his walk rate. By no means are these numbers good. But he skipped AAA and has just over 400 AB's and a ton of talent, so to see the improvement is nice.

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Offensively (wRC+), he's had a similar season as billy hamilton and grady sizemore, and he's been more valuable than BJ upton, Jackie Bradley Jr, Will Venable, and Revere.

 

By the same measurement, he's actually been above average (119 wRC+) over the last 30 days - granted, he hasn't had many at-bats. In that time, he's hitting .231/ .388 / .359.

 

It's hard to say what his defense will look like by the end of the year, but I think he's given us reason to believe he can provide positive value. I hope his bat and defense will improve to the point where we could put him in RF, but if he never reaches that point, I think it's likely he will be worth more in trade value this offeseason than Revere was.

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Offensively (wRC+)' date=' he's had a similar season as billy hamilton and grady sizemore, and he's been more valuable than BJ upton, Jackie Bradley Jr, Will Venable, and Revere.

 

By the same measurement, he's actually been above average (119 wRC+) over the last 30 days - granted, he hasn't had many at-bats. In that time, he's hitting .231/ .388 / .359.

 

It's hard to say what his defense will look like by the end of the year, but I think he's given us reason to believe he can provide positive value. I hope his bat and defense will improve to the point where we could put him in RF, but if he never reaches that point, I think it's likely he will be worth more in trade value this offeseason than Revere was.[/quote']what have you seen in his fielding that leads you to believe him to be an asset? So far I've seen a "CF" with high school skills. He is unable to look over his shoulder and loses deep fly balls because he can't track them.

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I haven't gotten to watch him enough but given his minor league track record I still have faith that he can continue to improve.

 

The comparison to Span and Revere is great as well. I remember running numbers last year and post his awful start where he went like 1 for 40 or something awful like that he actually put up better OPS or right in line with those two for the rest of the year. Again, not that he was good but offensively those two wouldn't have added much more than him.

 

The defense is troubling, in no way am I a scout and I honestly don't watch games as often as I did a few years ago prior to having children. The reports from reputable sources had him pegged as a plus defender though during his minor league career. My understanding of advanced metrics is that you really don't know much until a player has at least 2-3 years of numbers to look at right? He definitely flashes the leather from time to time with stealing home runs last year. Again, the guy is still young so I'm holding out hope he'll start putting up better numbers. Maybe he becomes a nice 4th outfielder once Buxton gets up here if his bat doesn't play in the corners. I'm hoping he can get up to a .750-.800 OPS and add in plus defense in a corner spot. I love the idea of having Buxton and Hicks out there together to cover 3/4s of the field and allow for a guy like Parmelee or Arcia to be playing the other corner.

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