Aaron Hicks is in the midst of an odd 2018 season with the New York Yankees. On a team where he’s the fourth-best outfield option, Hicks still receives regular playing time in center field, still puts up solid numbers, and still receives little attention from the fans.
While Clint Frazier is having a great season at Triple-A and ideally deserves a shot with the big club, it should not come at the expense of Aaron Hicks. Hicks is a versatile player, he can bat anywhere in the lineup, is a switch hitter with pop and without a true weak side, is one of the team’s best baserunners, plays good defense, and has a strong throwing arm.
These sound like some pretty good attributes! Sure enough, Hicks is eighth on the Yankees in WAR, and sixth among all MLB full-time center fielders in WAR. He has a higher WAR than center fielders like Charlie Blackmon, Starling Marte, Ender Inciarte, Michael Conforto, Adam Jones, and Jackie Bradley Jr., who have a combined 11 All-Star appearances.
And while Hicks seems to carry a reputation as a streaky hitter, his numbers this year are largely the same as they were last year, a season in which he endeared himself to Yankees fans. His strikeout and walk rates are almost the same, his ISO power is exactly the same, and his wRC+ continues to paint him as an above average hitter.
The only stat that is really any worse this year is Hicks’ batting average. This can be attributed to a lower BABIP though, which infers he is having some tough luck on balls in play. Every other counting and rate stat is remarkably similar to last year.
While Hicks does a lot of things well, his greatest assets are his excellent on-base skills and batter’s eye. Hicks has the second-best strikeout percentage on the Yankees, better than everyone except plate discipline wizard Brett Gardner. Not only does Hicks make a lot of contact, but this year, he’s made more hard contact than ever before. His exit velocity is up over four miles per hour from last year, and his hard contact rate has risen to a fantastic 40.9 percent, which only trails Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton.
Hicks’ terrific batter’s eye enables him to have such great contact skills, as well as the second-best walk rate on the Yankees (only Judge’s is higher). His out-of-zone swing percentage is the lowest it’s ever been in his career, and his plus contact rate is above his career norms. On a Yankees team laden with strikeouts, Hicks’ plate discipline is a much-needed change of pace.
Some fans still see Hicks as trade bait because the Yankees have a crowded outfield and Clint Frazier seems to be ready for his close-up with the big club. However, I don’t see this as a problem.
The Yankees have six outfielders who deserve playing time at the MLB level (including Jacoby Ellsbury, when healthy). Remember the first week of the season, when Jace Peterson and Shane Robinson were patrolling the outfield, only to be forgotten by the time the end-of-season Sporcle quiz comes around? Too much depth is never a bad thing, and the Yankees may have the best overall positional depth in the big leagues.
Unless there’s truly a smart deal to be made, the Yankees should be in no rush to thin out their organizational depth, and that includes Aaron Hicks. Truthfully, there’s nothing that Hicks really does that’s too extraordinary (other than his on-base skills), but there’s nothing he does poorly either! Hicks is one of those classic jack-of-all trades, but master-of-none players. Some call him streaky, but his numbers always finish right where we expect them every year: somewhere around .260/.350/.430.
And I can think of 29 other general managers who would sign right up for such production from their fourth-best outfielder.