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Hope on the horizon for Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks has made adjustments on the left side to start hitting with authority.

New York Yankees v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Aaron Hicks has at times been a popular punching bag for Yankees fans this season, going through notable stretches of listless work at the plate. He’s shown some promising signs recently, though, and appears to be starting to put together good at-bats. In many ways, it’s not surprising that he has looked a little rusty at the plate. The last time he played in more than 100 games during a season was 2018, so it might just be time to feel some hope for Hicks, as his swing comes around and he fully shakes off the rust from a lost 2021 campaign.

One of the things that’s previously made Hicks such a valuable, and mercurial, hitter is his ability to switch-hit. Unfortunately, up until recently, he had very little success from the left side. But now that Hicks has started to play more consistently and not had any major health problems, he has started to hit more like he did in 2018 (.833 OPS) and 2017 (.847 OPS).

Since the end of June and the beginning of July, Hicks has started to hit with much greater authority. What’s driving the turnaround One thing to note is that Baseball Savant fits pitches in three categories; fastballs, breaking pitches, and offspeed pitches.

Aaron Hicks in Zone Swing Percentage against RHP by Month
Credit: Baseball Savant

As Hicks has heated up, we’ve seen his swing decisions against all types of pitches improve. When pitchers have come into the zone in July, he’s made sure to pull the trigger. This, combined with Hicks’ always excellent ability to lay off pitches out of the zone, provides optimism for Hicks’ overall offensive output. He remains in the top four percent of the league in walks even while his other slugging numbers have suffered. In the early goings of July, he has had a noticeable uptick in aggressiveness. And that aggressiveness has been tailored carefully:

Aaron Hicks in Zone Sing and Miss Percentage against RHP by Month
Credit: Baseball Savant

It’s not all good news, as Hicks has swung through more breaking ball as he’s gotten more aggressive. But Hicks has been able to more consistently make contact against breaking pitches while not really missing more on fastballs. This means that he has not been whiffing on important pitches in the zone. These are pitches that are largely hittable. You want a hitter to swing and make contact on those pitches. Missing a few in-zone sliders is a fine trade for swinging at and contacting other offerings more in the zone.

Aaron Hicks xSLG against RHP by Month
Credit: Baseball Savant

Ultimately, this last graphic tells the whole tale. Hicks has made huge strides from the left side in recent weeks, and it’s shown in the authority he’s struck the ball with. His expected slugging has approached or exceeded 1.000 against every type of pitch thrown by lefties this month:

There are still some concerns with how Hicks has been hitting, and that has to do with his batting from the right side. While Hicks has come along with his left-handed swing, he has not had the same success with his right-handed swing. This might be more of an issue that he has not faced as many lefty pitchers in the month of July. Overall, his expected slugging percentage is much lower from the right side than from the left, but this might change as he has more of an opportunity to face left-handed pitchers.

All told, there’s reason to hope that Hicks can round into form as a decent contributor with the bat. If he can continue to combine selective aggression with the ability to spit on pitches out of the zone, he should be able to drive the ball as he has lately. This is particularly true if he can get his right-handed swing in the same position as his left-handed swing has been this month. A version of Hicks that can provide better average or better production from both sides of the plate would do wonders in deepening the Yankee lineup.