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Aaron Hicks is punishing fastballs, and that’s great news for the Yankees

Pitchers might want to avoid throwing fastballs against Hicks.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Extension frenzy swept through baseball last winter. For example, the 2019-2020 free agent class took a big hit seeing Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt, and Justin Verlander all come off the board before anyone else even had a chance to make an offer. The Yankees were no exception to the trend, signing their ace Luis Severino and switch-hitting center fielder Aaron Hicks to extensions as well. Severino was signed for four seasons covering his arbitration years, but Hicks landed a seven-year contract that would run through the twilight of his career. Hicks could ultimately spend 10 years in pinstripes, all after being acquired for John Ryan Murphy.

When Hicks’ back injury sidelined him for most of spring training and the first month of the regular season, it was expected that he would have some catching up to do upon his return. With a small total of 20 plate appearances in the minor leagues before joining the Yankees, there was bound to be some rust to shake off. As the end of July nears, Hicks has now accumulated more than 200 plate appearances—and the results are night and day between the first 100 plate appearances and the following 100.

Comparing Hicks’ first two months

Dates Plate Appearances BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+
Dates Plate Appearances BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+
5/15-6/21 119 12.6 24.4 0.155 0.225 71
6/22-7/23 101 11.9 29.7 0.310 0.385 158
FanGraphs

What remains consistent for Hicks, even when he is struggling, is his ability to draw bases on balls. His plate discipline allows him to continuously place himself above league average in this regard. What has been uncharacteristic is the frequency in which he is striking out. Considering he has finished each of his last four seasons with a strike out rate under 20% it’s safe to say his current mark off 26.8% will decrease.

His overall performance has taken a huge jump going from a wRC+ of 71 to 158, aided by a change in isolated power that has doubled compared to his first 119 plate appearances. As a player finds himself raising his isolated power, his BABIP is helped as well. Hitting for a BABIP of .385 since June 22nd, Hicks currently ranks him 15th overall in the majors behind both first place Aaron Judge and third place DJ LeMahieu.

Hicks’ performance versus fastballs

Dates Fastball Results Batting Average Slugging Percentage Average Exit Velocity
Dates Fastball Results Batting Average Slugging Percentage Average Exit Velocity
5/15-6/21 76 0.197 0.329 89.4
6/22-7/23 53 0.396 0.755 93.5
Statcast

Considering pitchers in major league baseball are throwing fastballs more than 55 percent of the time its important to have success against this pitch, and Hicks has completely destroyed them. It might have been a matter of timing for Hicks, but as of now he has it all figured out. If you were wondering, his go-ahead home run against his former team, the Minnesota Twins, was also against a fastball.

It might not seem like much, but the average difference of four miles per hour against fastballs has been pivotal for his production. During his first 119 plate appearances Hicks had a hard-hit rate of 36%. In the 101 after, that mark has climbed to 44.1%

Additionally, both his batting average and slugging percentage against fastballs are twice as high as they were compared to his slump. Because Hicks is a switch-hitter, it’s important to mention his ability to create exit velocity from both sides of the plate. Since June 22, Hicks has been able to hit harder than 89.4 miles per hour from both sides, 92.5 from the left and 94.4 from the right. Hitting the ball hard goes a long way towards generating success outcomes.

The Yankees showed a lot of confidence in Hicks when they decided to extend him for seven years. At 29 years old, Hicks could still be improving parts of his game while in his prime. Consistently placing yourself over the league average in walks and under the league average in strikeouts is already an impressive feat. If Hicks is able to find consistent power like he has over the last month he could put himself on elite list. Hitting for an isolated power of about .250 for a whole season is reserved for the likes of Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but if Hicks continues this trend, he could very well be part of that company at season’s end.

This extension still has a lot of time to play out, but for right now, Hicks is doing everything to start it off on a positive note.