For a 99-win team, the 2022 Yankees featured more than a few players who received their fair share of doubts from fans. Perhaps one of the most obvious from last year was Aaron Hicks. There were certainly times where this was warranted, given his poor overall numbers, but there were quietly some times when he held his own as well. For better or for worse, as the Yankees stood pat in left field this offseason, it appears that Hicks will still see a good amount of playing time this season, even after his mostly forgettable 2022.
2022 Statistics: 130 games, 453 plate appearances, 8 HR, 40 RBI, .216/.330/.313, 90 wRC+, 13.7 BB%, 24.1 K%, 1.5 fWAR
2023 ZiPS Projections: 99 games, 366 plate appearances, 9 HR, 35 RBI, .215/.323/.343, 95 wRC+, 13.4 BB%, 24.6 K%, 0.8 fWAR
2022 was a volatile season for Hicks, and for the most part, a bad one. Just to give some context to the severity of his streakiness, he had a 157 wRC+ in July, and a 9 wRC+ in August. All told, he had a 90 wRC+ on the season, and probably wasn’t quite as bad as it felt. This was mostly due to his aforementioned highs and lows, as well as the fact that his bad was bad, and his good wasn’t exactly the most exciting kind of production.
Down the stretch and in the postseason, the veteran switch-hitter had mostly lost his starting job in left field, and that “starting” role seems to be up for grabs once again this spring. Even though the answers to New York’s position player questions may seem clear at the moment to us outsiders, Hicks will at least have the chance to earn some real playing time.
Enough about the past, let’s do our best to look forward when it comes to Hicks. He projects to marginally improve on offense, pegged by ZiPS for a 95 wRC+. I think the biggest question headed into the season is whether or not he can salvage any of the power he lost post-2020. Last year, his slugging percentage was well below his OBP, something you don’t see all that often. His mark of .313 was bottom-10 among all major leaguers with at least 450 plate appearances. Lest we forget, this is a guy who hit 27 homers in 137 games in 2018. Although projections have it bouncing back slightly, nine homers and slugging .343 isn’t exactly threatening.
On the bright side, he did still walk a ton, and projects to continue doing that. He’s long had a very good eye, and a generally good plan at the plate. His walk rate last year (13.7 percent) was in the 95th percentile, and his chase rate in the 93rd, something Hicks has a proven ability to maintain. This tool alone helps keep his floor at a manageable place. He obviously has skills that he’s shown before, but we are now another year removed from his solid play back in 2017-20. Even though I admittedly wait too long to give up on players I like, and ones that have had good seasons before, his ceiling at this point probably isn’t any higher than a league average bat, driven mostly by a solid ability to reach base. Despite a few hard-to-miss gaffes, he’s right around an average defender out in left as well.
As mentioned, the Yankees’ left field spot is not set in stone, as they didn’t fill the spot with a Bryan Reynolds or Brandon Nimmo. On top of Hicks’ presence, Oswaldo Cabrera is also (deservedly) getting serious consideration for the spot. One way or another, Hicks is going to see plenty of time, given the inevitability of injuries and Cabrera’s multi-positional abilities.
I don’t think he’ll return to his peak form at this point, and the length of his contract will continue to look worse if things continue the way they have been. But if Hicks can be a fourth outfielder type, who’s at least floating around league-average at the plate, I say that’s fine, particularly if some of the potential youth on this team pans out.