Aaron Hicks had a weird 2020.
He was one of seven players that walked more often than he struck out - joining a club with the likes of Freddie Freeman, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper. Yet he hit for a surprising lack of power, posting his lowest SLG and ISO since 2016, his first season in the Bronx. He appeared in 54 of the team’s 60 games, with 50 starts in the outfield, all in center. He is clearly the team’s choice for that pivotal position, yet this was the first season he was objectively bad defensively. Sample size caveats obviously apply, but whether you use DRS, UZR/150, or OAA, Hicks was not good at one of the most important spots on the diamond.
Of course, the thing about Hicks’ season that prompted the most conversation was where he hit in the batting order. The Yankees’ obsession with breaking up their big right-handed bats meant that the switch-hitter was penciled in to the third spot over and over, hitting in the three hole 32 times through the season, and every single game in the postseason run.
The Yankees have shown a great deal of loyalty to Hicks, from the moment they traded him, to the seven-year extension the two sides agreed to, through guaranteeing him a plate appearance in the first inning of every single postseason game. And for all of 2020, but especially in the team’s playoff run, Aaron Hicks made it count.
He scored six runs in the seven games, including on two of Giancarlo Stanton’s home runs, and another on a Stanton sac fly. This was the postseason where Stanton really began sketching out his Yankee legacy, but if Hicks isn’t getting on base in front of him, the narrative around Stanton carrying the team, driving in all these runs, begins to change.
Is Hicks clutch? He didn’t have a big home run - in fact, he didn’t leave the yard once in the postseason run, and six of his eight hits were singles. He didn’t really have a memorable defensive play - Brett Gardner robbed a home run and Gio Urshela was a highlight reel every night, but Hicks was just the center fielder.
But he got on base 14 times in seven games. He wore pitchers out at the plate, and used his best asset, his recognition of the strike zone. Discipline doesn’t slump, and even though a guy like DJ LeMahieu is a better player than Hicks, in the Yankee playoff run, Hicks was far more valuable, working opposing pitchers and refusing to give away outs against some of the best pitchers in the game.
Aaron Hicks has had a strange career, and a weird 2020. He’ll continue to be an average-to-above-average player, and we’ll scratch our heads at why he is hitting third, or whether his defense is as good as it could be. But for the last two weeks, he was the best Yankee hitter not named Giancarlo Stanton, and the Yankees were rewarded for their loyalty.