Aaron Hicks, who put on some added muscle this offseason, has also added some weight to his wallet after signing a seven-year extension on Monday morning. Hicks has been one of the most valuable center fielders in the league in recent years, behind just Mike Trout in a number of offensive categories, and the Yankees will have him around for years to come.
Hicks recently expressed his desire to take another step forward for the Yankees in 2019, in the form of more home runs, which could have been his motivation to ‘cultivate mass,’ as Mac from ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ would say.
Caught up with Aaron Hicks earlier this week and asked about the 15 pounds he put on this offseason. With it, what's his biggest focus this year?— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) February 23, 2019
"To try to get more power ... I want to hit more than 30 (homers)."
Hicks, who finished the 2018 season with a career-high 27 homers, wants to push above the 30-homer mark this season, and show everyone he is worth his new contract (which he more than is, based on his numbers in the past two seasons). So, the big question: can Hicks get there? Can he give the Yankees more than 30 dingers from the leadoff spot?
Injuries spring to mind as the first concern. Yes, he puts forth excellent producible when on the field, but Hicks has had trouble logging a full season. As Josh pointed out earlier in the offseason, however, Hicks logged 581 plate appearances last season, just one below the American League average of 582. The 29-year-old appeared in 137 games, after just 88 in 2017. Could Hicks add another four homers to reach his goal if he simply plays as many games as last year?
First, let’s take a look at what drove Hicks’ recent power surge. It’s already well-known that the Yankees urged Hicks to thrive on “power and pull” when he arrived in New York and focus less on batting average, which has certainly paid off. In 2018, Hicks took even more strides in that direction, as his average launch angle increased from 10.6 to 12.5 degrees, per Statcast. That was by far his career-high, and the most since his 10.8 mark in 2015.
Hicks also finished with a hard-hit rate of 43 percent, which eclipsed his previous career-high by eight percent. If Hicks can continue to square up fastballs with the added muscle he put on this offseason, eclipsing 30 homers doesn’t sound too farfetched.
Hicks’ increased launch angle resulted in a HR/FB rate of 19 percent last year, up from 15.8 percent in 2017. He likely doesn’t want to go much higher in terms of launch angle, which could result in more flyouts, but adding muscle, staying on the field and continuing to punish fastballs is a good recipe for 30-plus home runs this season.
Again, if Hicks can just stay as healthy as he did in 2018, he will get plenty of plate appearances from the leadoff spot, and with bats like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton behind him, he’ll get pitches to hit. Considering Hicks was in the top three percent in baseball in walk rate last year, he’ll also wait for his pitch, and make the most of it. Given his elite plate discipline, increased launch angle and now bulging biceps, hitting over the 30 homers to the sticks seems absolutely attainable.