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?