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Breaking down Aaron Hicks’s struggles

Hicks has been healthy for over a month, but is still finding his way at the plate.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

In signing Aaron Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million contract extension, the Yankees went all-in on their full-realized starting center fielder. Hicks has many desirable traits – he’s a switch-hitter with an exceptional batter’s eye, and although none of his tools (with the exception of his arm) really jump off the page, Hicks is proficient with all of them. In the simplest sense, he’s a five-tool player.

However, Hicks hasn’t been hitting like the player that earned that extension this season. He missed over 40 games with back and shoulder injuries, which has certainly contributed to his troubles at the plate. Still, Hicks has also been back in the lineup for about a month, and he still doesn’t seem right.

Hicks is slashing just .204/.305/.372 this season, and his splits over his recent games don’t show many signs of improvement. While Monday night’s home run against the Blue Jays was hugely important in helping the Yankees win, the Yankees need to see more moments like that from Hicks moving forward.

Hicks’s 2019 struggles can be drilled down to two areas. First, his plate discipline has not been as excellent this year as it has been in the past. Hicks is taking and swinging at pitches at similar rates as in past years, but he’s swinging at the wrong pitches.

His chase rate has increased this year by three percent, and his whiff rate has jumped up eight percent from last season. This manifests itself in an unsightly 26 percent strikeout rate, which is Hicks’s worst figure since his rookie season in 2013. A player with Hicks’s patience at the dish should not be striking out in over a quarter of his plate appearances.

Hicks’s issues can also be attributed to his declining numbers against fastballs. Obviously, it’s the pitch Hicks sees the most of, but in the past, he was a fastball killer. Hicks hit .288 off of fastballs the last two seasons with a slugging percentage over .500. This year, he’s only hitting .222 and slugging .383 off of heaters, which creates a problem.

A pitcher’s fastball sets up all of his other pitches. When he can throw a fastball past a hitter with no fear, he’s got the batter in the palm of his hand. Hicks has historically hit for power off of the fastball – he’s hit 26 of his 42 home runs (62 percent) the last two seasons off of fastballs. His track record shows that it’s not panic time by any means, but it’s an issue that he’ll have to correct sooner rather than later to get back on track.

Aaron Hicks hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, due to injuries and uncharacteristic struggles at the plate, but he still has three months left to flip the script. This is a player who was arguably the best non-Mike Trout center fielder in the American League the last two years. For Hicks to fully reach his potential this year, though, he’ll need to get back to doing what he does best – making pitchers work with his outstanding plate discipline, and getting to his plus power off of fastballs.