The Yankees have played some of their best baseball in a while, and had a five-game advantage over the Tampa Bay Rays before Friday’s games. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t have any weaknesses.
The Yanks have gotten solid play from most of their starters, but there is one notable exception: outfielder Aaron Hicks is badly struggling at the moment. The catching tandem isn’t contributing much offensively, but at least they are elite behind the plate. The same can’t be said about Hicks.
Combining the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Hicks slashed .255/.369/.470 with a 125 OPS+, 42 home runs, 144 runs, 131 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and 141 walks, not to mention his solid defense in center field. Even if we examine his stats from 2017 to 2020, Hicks hit .247/.362/.457 with a 120 OPS+. If we judge his last two years, he is not that player anymore.
That itself wouldn’t be such a big issue if we were talking about gradual decline. He is 32 years old, after all, and there is no set age for baseball players to fall off a cliff. But between his early-season showings in each of the last two seasons, it’s safe to say the Yankees should be getting frustrated with Hicks’ lack of production.
Right now, his game centers around walks, and not much else. He is sporting a healthy 16.8 percent walk rate, but slashing just .196/.331/.237 with a 79 wRC+, one homer, and five stolen bases in 119 plate appearances.
Last year, he hit .194/.294/.333 with four homers and a 76 wRC+ in 126 trips to the plate. The sample size was small when he got hurt last year, and this time around, you could perhaps argue that his power or bat speed still haven’t fully returned after his wrist surgery in 2021.
But the Yankees, and fans, have witnessed 245 plate appearances of a version of Hicks that can’t even crack a 80 wRC+. His Statcast metrics aren’t particularly promising, either, as he is in the 26th percentile in average exit velocity, ninth percentile in hard-hit rate, and 27th percentile in expected wOBA. Take a look at this:
If you were looking for encouraging underlying metrics in Hicks’ profile, there are none. Oh, and he is no longer the defensive outfielder he once was: he is currently in the 21st percentile in Outs Above Average and in the 30th percentile in the Outfielder Jump stat.
At the moment, Hicks is a liability at the plate and on the field, and one has to wonder how long of a leash the 28-10, division-leading Yankees will give him before seriously considering making some changes.
In four of the last five games, Hicks has been the Yankees’ center fielder. Aaron Judge, who can play an adequately at the position, could be a solution for as long as his own play back there (and health, of course) allows it. Judge has 0 OAA or DRS in 93 center field innings in 2022, so while he won’t win you any games out there, he won’t lose them with his glove either. It’s certainly better than Hicks’ -4 DRS and -1 OAA in a small sample this year.
Joey Gallo can also play center in a pinch, and Tim Locastro is a more natural fit once he recovers from his last strain. In any case, Hicks is probably approaching that uncomfortable point in which he will start losing playing time if he doesn’t show any signs of life in the next few games (or weeks, depending on the Yankees’ patience).
The trade market could also be an option later down the road, but it may be too early to start looking at that particular avenue. At the very least, the Judge experiment is certainly worth trying if they get tired of Hicks’ lack of production.
If there is a team this season that could probably afford to give a struggling starter some extra time to work things out, it’s the Yankees. But they need to see some positive signs from Hicks at some point, and those signs are just not there at the moment.