clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Aaron Hicks deserves to stay in the Yankees’ lineup

New, comments

Hicks' eye, contact quality, and fielding should keep him in the lineup, even if he’s not hitting.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Lately, Aaron Hicks has drawn the ire of many Yankees fans with his subpar hitting. I guess batting .208 over 28 games will do that to you. With the recent promotion of Clint Frazier, many fans have argued that Aaron Hicks should be relegated to a bench spot. Now, I'm just as excited about Red Thunder being in the bigs as the next guy, but I'm not sure that I agree. I think that Aaron Hicks still deserves to be the Yankees' starting center fielder, and here's why.

First, Hicks still has great plate discipline, which was one of the keys to his 2017 breakout. He's currently walking 14.5% of the time, while keeping his strikeout rate (19.7%) well under the MLB average (22.5%). A closer look reveals that Hicks is swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone at a career-low rate (19.9%), while raising his contact rate by six points from last year (80.4%, compared to last year's 74.5%). All of this suggests that Hicks' approach at the plate is as sound as ever, and that if all else is equal, he should see an uptick in his results.

What's more, the quality of contact that Hicks is making is also better than ever. According to BaseballSavant, Hicks is running career highs in overall exit velocity (89.4 MPH), average launch angle (12.2%), hard hit rate (44.2%), and expected wOBA (.357). These numbers aren't just personal bests; Hicks ranks above the MLB average in hard hit rate and expected wOBA. Despite hitting the ball hard, Hicks is running a BABIP of .233, which suggests that he's been getting extremely unlucky on his batted balls. Once his luck starts to turn, Hicks should be fine.

Finally, Hicks's fielding prowess makes him the best defensive option in center field that the Yankees have right now. While we can't say anything conclusive about how Hicks has fared in the field this year, due to the immense number of innings it takes for fielding statistics to stabilize, it's worth at least mentioning that both DRS and UZR have rated Hicks as an above-average fielder. This holds true even when we look at his past three years as a whole, which suggests that this isn't a one-year fluke. Hicks is a legitimate center fielder, and he's a better option defensively out there than Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge and Frazier.

Now, some of you might argue that while Hicks may be the Yankees' best defensive option, the Yankees should still bench him if he doesn't turn it around with the bat soon. To address this issue I'd like to point out that Hicks has amassed 0.5 fWAR over 117 plate appearances already, even while running a 87 wRC+. Prorated to 500 plate appearances, that's good for 2.1 fWAR. In other words, while Hicks might not be good at the plate now, the total package is still good enough to render him a credible MLB regular. This, combined with the fact that he should start hitting better sooner or later, is enough reason to keep Hicks around.

In sum, Hicks still has a great approach at the plate, his contact quality is good, and his glove makes him a starter even when the bat isn't there. Taking into consideration these three reasons, the Yankees would be wise to keep starting Hicks. Now, this makes the question of how to get Frazier sufficient playing time a little more difficult, but that's probably a topic for another article. Frazier or no Frazier, benching Hicks probably isn't the answer.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and BaseballSavant.