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The Yankees don’t need to worry about a streaky Aaron Hicks

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Hicks’ swoon in the latter half of 2017 has saddled him with an undeserved reputation.

New York Mets v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Aaron Hicks is having a great year. This is the second time this week that I’ve pointed that out, as I advocated putting him in the leadoff spot in my previous article. In fact, Katie Sharp of The Athletic put up a full post on Hicks and his exploits this season. If you’re still unsold on his merits as a ballplayer, please go read Sharp’s article.

This article will take a more limited focus, attempting to dispel some myths and misconceptions about Hicks. Despite his high WAR total, Hicks has a number of vocal detractors who question his abilities. One subset of critics point to Hicks’ low-ish batting average as a damning feature of his game. If you belong to this subset, I suggest you read this page to find out better ways of measuring a player’s offensive contributions.

Some fans concede that Hicks’ overall numbers look fine, but contend that his performance in clutch situations leaves a lot to be desired. Such fans should read Sharp’s piece, in which she notes that Hicks has a .849 OPS with runners in scoring position this year, and has driven in runners on third with two outs at an above-average rate.

However, there is a certain group of Hicks critics (hey, it rhymes) who are unlikely to be convinced by basic sabermetric tenets or Sharp’s article. Their argument is that Hicks’ overall numbers don’t tell the whole story - they are inflated by a few good months, and mask prolonged stretches of mediocrity. They contend, in essence, that Hicks is far too streaky to be considered good. This article seeks to dispel this notion, and recover Mr. Hicks’ good name.

First, I should probably acknowledge that this notion isn’t entirely without basis. I’m referring to the second half of 2017, when Hicks suffered an oblique injury and endured trips to the DL in both late June and most of September. Here’s how his 15-game rolling average wRC+ went that year.

Aaron Hicks 15-game rolling average wRC+, 2017
FanGraphs.com

Hicks ran a 77 wRC+ in August that year, which isn’t really the way to endear yourself to Yankee fans. Combined with the fact that he spent all of 2016 stinking the joint up, and many were happy to label Hicks as a failed prospect who looked good for a couple of months. Despite Hicks’ strong 2018 to date, many still adhere to this line.

So, is there truth to the notion that Hicks is streaky and unreliable? Let’s extend the timespan of the graph above to include Hicks’ 2016 and 2018.

Aaron Hicks 15-game rolling average wRC+, 2016-2018
FanGraphs.com

Two things stand out. First, it’s clear that Hicks is no longer the black hole at the plate he was in 2016 and before. During the past two seasons, Hicks has spent far more time above the 100 wRC+ mark than he has below it. Second, the graph does indicate that Hicks’ performance has fluctuated substantially, with the blue line dipping below the 100 wRC+ mark from time to time.

However, this alone does not prove that Hicks is especially streaky, as hitters go through ups and downs all of the time. Are Hicks’ peaks and valleys more pronounced than others? That question can be answered by juxtaposing Hicks’ graph with those of other players. For brevity’s sake, I’ll limit the comparison to one player. Here’s how Didi Gregorius has fared the past three seasons.

Didi Gregorius 15-game rolling average wRC+, 2016-2018
FanGraphs.com

Like Hicks, Didi’s 15-game rolling average wRC+ has generally ranged from 200 to 50. The exception is this year, when he went on a blistering tear in April and then cratered in May. After that, he’s jumped around from 150 to 50, en route to an overall above-average batting line so far this year.

Now, those who think Hicks is streaky might also think that Didi is streaky as well. However, at least to my knowledge, Didi doesn’t nearly receive the same amount of criticism that Hicks does for being “streaky,” despite the fact that Didi’s offensive performance has fluctuated just as much (and arguably more) than Hicks’ over the past two years.

Indeed, Didi’s career trajectory has been very similar to Hicks’ in a macro sense. Both were known as stellar defenders with questionable bats before coming to the Yankees. Didi hit for an 89 wRC+ in 2015, but has steadily improved since, cracking the 100 wRC+ threshold for the first time in his career in 2017. Meanwhile, Hicks turned in an anemic 64 wRC+ in 2016, but broke out in 2017 to the tune of a 127 wRC+. Yet, while Didi is now considered by the vast majority of Yankee fans to be a reliable everyday hitter, Hicks has yet to achieve that status.

The numbers clearly show that Didi has been just as “streaky” as Hicks. What’s more, Hicks’ season numbers have been even better than Didi’s. If the Yankees’ fanbase has accepted that Didi Gregorius is a true-talent above-average hitter, then it’s high time they do the same for Aaron Hicks, too.