Depending on the situation, the suspense of a walk can be electric. With runners on base, a pitcher is out of options. They must attack the hitter at the plate, no matter who it is. If you nibble, then you only dig yourself a further hole. Aaron Hicks is one of the best at forcing pitchers to throw. I know his peak hitting days are gone, but his appeal to the team stems from his above average plate discipline that puts all the pressure on the pitcher.
In late July against the Kansas City Royals, Hicks was amidst his best month of the season, when he had a 157 wRC+ due to an 18.8-percent walk rate and decent power output. He was a solid hitter in who just kept getting on base in the back half of the lineup. In this at-bat, Hicks faced off against Scott Barlow with the bases loaded. Barlow had already melted down earlier in the inning. All the pressure was on him to challenge Hicks and the zone and see if he could get a groundball. He tried and tried, but Hicks’ patience was overwhelming. See for yourself.
This is a rough start to an at-bat with the bases loaded. The last thing you want to do is hand the team another run because you threw the baseball 30 feet. Lucky for Barlow, his catcher would not cede a run because of a spiked pitch. After this, it was almost a guarantee that Hicks would force Barlow to throw a strike. That’s just his M.O.
Barlow adjusted from the previous pitch, as his release is still too late and leads towards a back hip curveball instead of a back foot curveball. Barlow now had a 2-0 count with two pitches way out of the zone and one of the league’s most patient hitters at the plate. Once again, I was very skeptical Hicks would swing at anything here.
Jeez. A filthy backdoor slider that was probably a ball, but you can’t make a much better pitch when behind in the count. Typically you would go right at the hitter with a fastball in this situation, but Barlow needed a whiff or groundball. His breaking balls are better suited to do that. Now with a 2-1 count, expect Hicks to hunt something in his low and inside money zone.
Barlow is trying so hard to target the inner half here. I commend the effort but that’s three out of four pitches with inaccurate releases. He was playing right into Hicks’ favor. If he could take every pitch, he probably would! When he’s out of whack, you’ll see him chase in advantage counts, but when he’s on, this is what he does to pitchers — get deep in counts and wait for mistakes.
Barlow must have had an alter ego in his head during this at-bat. Three pitches way out of the zone and two dotted backdoor sliders.
This was probably very confusing for Hicks! Can you not find the zone or are you just messing? It’s a great representation of being effectively wild. If Hicks gets something in the zone, it might be surprising and sneak up on him. With a 3-2 count, he had to find a way to win the at-bat.
Like I said, Hicks looked surprised to get something dead smack in the middle of the plate. He was most likely geared up for a fastball, as he was way out in front of a slider that floated directly in the heart of the plate. This is typically a perfect pitch for Hicks to yank over the right-field wall, but he missed his best opportunity. Repeat the 3-2 count.
In targeting the backdoor corner once again, Barlow lost the grip on his curveball, and it backed up on him. He walked a run in after giving up a handful of hard hit balls. This was the worst case scenario for Barlow. Hicks was a candidate for a groundball and potential inning-ending double play, but instead, Barlow played into Hicks’ best skill: patience.
If Hicks is to be an average hitter in 2023, he will need to continue to employ this patience and be as selective as possible.