Aaron Hicks, during the 2022 MLB season, has fallen into and out of favor with New York Yankees fans more than any reasonable human being would like to count. He wasn’t bad at all to start the season, posting a 134 wRC+ through the first 15 games. However, it didn’t take very long for him to have the worst full month of his season in May. He struck out 24 times, posted a 25 wRC+, and an abhorrent .394 OPS in 83 plate appearances.
At that point in the season, fans called for Hicks to be benched or, at the very least, played less often. He wasn’t getting it done at the plate, and his defense isn’t strong enough to warrant keeping him in the lineup. A player in which the Yankees put complete faith to be a contributor was failing. But a switch flipped, and he started hitting better.
In June, Hicks hit well, and in July, he hit even better. His 110 and 157 wRC+ in those months are just small data points showing how much of an impact he had in the batter’s box. But now, August has hit, and he’s back to being a non-factor. Since the start of the month, he holds an abysmal .136 batting average and .345 OPS.
To get to the bottom of Hicks’ inconsistencies, I decided to dig through some game film from his worst and best full months (May and June/July).
For a hitter, timing is everything. A dramatic leg kick and ferocious swing like the one Hicks possesses can seriously throw off his timing and ability to see the ball all the way, thus affecting his overall output. We’ve seen this problem with Aaron Judge, who has also shortened his front-leg movement and has seen excellent results.
From his best to his worst month, there was a noticeable difference in the speed of Hicks’ front leg kick and how his hips turned. Below is a video of a solo home run from a July 9th game against the Houston Astros against pitcher Ryan Pressly, who missed his location for a fastball and cost himself three runs and the lead.
Hicks’ front foot gets down fast, and he can turn on the ball and crank it into the seats at Yankee Stadium. The swing is controlled, and he recognizes the pitch well enough to swing and drive the ball out of the playing field.
The video below is from July, and even though he strikes out, the leg kick is a bit less exaggerated. The most significant difference in this instance is the less-controlled swing and late pull-through of the hips, which causes a more out-of-control swing and a strikeout.
Despite the difference in outcomes, his front leg kick, hip rotation, and overall speed in his swing in his best month were identical, allowing him to make more and better contact on the baseball. In May, however, it was much more of the second video than the first.
The clip above is the most identical pitch I could find from May that Hicks struck out on. A complete meatball down the middle at 92 mph that he couldn’t recognize and viciously swung at in hopes of making even a little bit of contact. The video below is the same, albeit with a better-located four-seam fastball:
A player’s batting stance is unique to them, and it’s interesting to look at the different nuances from player to player, but plenty of people don’t know how much it can affect the way a hitter produces. So many pieces to the Aaron Hicks batting stance puzzle help and hurt his production.
At his worst, Hicks having to compensate for that high and dramatic leg kick can throw off the timing of his hip turn, forcing his bat to come around early or late. In turn, that also causes him to whip the bat around uncontrollably instead of calmly staying behind the ball and following through.
So what is Hicks doing now to prevent the slump from continuing? Despite a rough start to August, there was a tangible difference in the kick’s height and speed through the strike zone in the game, where he’s performed his best so far.
Every player succeeds when recognizing pitches out of the pitcher’s hand. But hitters need to be productive even when pitch recognition is a little off. With Hicks, when he does not recognize pitches, he doesn’t shorten his leg kick, resulting in a more prolonged hesitation at the top of his windup and a wild swing through the strike zone. If he can keep that leg kick down, or at the very least less enthusiastic, learn to generate more power through his hips with the less-dramatized first step, and control his swing through the strike zone, we could see Hicks keep up above-average production.