Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

Image result for matrix

It’s been a journey for Aaron Hicks. Not too different from the one Neo had to embark in the movie, The Matrix. When the Matrix called upon Neo, he was raw and naive. Along the way, many mistakes were made and observers debated the efficacy of his potential. Eventually, Neo figured out the Matrix and, as a result, was able to navigate seamlessly through it. Could the same be in store for Hicks?

Hicks ate the red pill and was subsequently drafted in the first round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft by the Minnesota Twins. Baseball America named him a Rookie All-Star and placed him as high as 19th in the top 100 prospect list. His first four years of professional baseball were spent in Rookie and Single-A. During those years, the walk rate was around 14% while the strikeout rate was around 20%. He was a .260-ish hitter and showed the ability to hit around six home runs and steal 15 bases. When he moved up to Double-A, Hicks hit .286, clubbed 13 home runs, and stole 32 bases. Was Hicks ready for the Jump Program?

In 2013, Hicks was called up to the major leagues and played 43 games. .192 average with a 7% walk rate and 27% strikeout rate. He did hit eight home runs and steal nine bases, though. Hey, Neo failed on his first jump too! The following year, after spending some time in the minors, Hicks was called up to the Big Show again. In 24 games, he hit .215, had a 16% walk rate, 25% strikeout rate, and hit one home run with four stolen bases. Not good, but did you notice the increase in walk rate? Is that what they call foreshadowing? The following season, Hicks tore up Triple-A and had very good success at the major league level. He batted .256, decreased the strikeout rate to 17%, and clubbed 11 home runs while stealing 13 bases. The walk rate did come down to 9%. Unfortunately, the Twins had Byron Buxton as their center fielder of the future, so they traded Hicks to the New York Yankees for John Ryan Murphy.

Hicks’ first year in New York did not go as planned. Neither did Neo’s first encounter with Agent Smith. I’m not sure which one had the worse experience. Hicks batted .217 with eight home runs and three stolen bases in 123 games for the Yankees. The walk (8%) and strikeout (19%) rates were fine. Consistent playing time was not, though. As the fourth outfielder, it was difficult for Hicks to elevate over Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. The 2017 season began in the same fashion, as Aaron Judge won the right field duties over Hicks in Spring Training.

All was not the same, though. Even though Hicks was not playing everyday, when he did pinch hit or was inserted into the lineup to give one of the outfielders a day off, he was producing. It wasn’t just the fact that he was producing. It was HOW he was producing. 15% strikeout rate and 19% walk rate!! He was chasing only 15% of pitches out of the strike zone! In general, he was just swinging at fewer pitches. As Neo was able to view the Matrix as programming code, is the zone that Hicks is currently in a permanent one or something akin to the Super Star in Super Mario Bros?

I’m a believer. Hicks has always been fairly disciplined in his approach, as the rate for swinging at pitches outside the strike zone has never exceeded 23%. The swinging strike rate of 8% is also not an anomaly, as it’s only exceeded 8% once in five major league seasons. The .340 BABIP and .338 average will come down. So will the .325 ISO. Hicks has a 30% soft contact rate, a 50% contact rate, and an insane 30% HR/FB rate. The question is how much?

The projection systems have him down for a .250 average rest of season. I’m much more bullish. .275-.280-ish with the possiblity for higher. My reasons? For starters, he’s always had above-average contact rates and a solid approach. He also has excellent speed, which should allow for a high-BABIP floor. Secondly, he’s 27 years old and entering the prime of his career. He’s mature both physically and mentally. Lastly, he’s on a one-year, $574,000 contract. I know the contract narrative is debatable, but I’m on the side of it having merit. We all want to get paid. Some to make it rain. Others to get cheese on their Whopper. Whatever it is, if you know your contract is up, gotta be a little more focused, try a little harder, and play through pain, right?

Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room, which is consistent playing time. Gardner, Ellsbury, and Judge are still ahead of Hicks on the depth chart. There are a few scenarios that I’ve seen thrown around. The first is that Hicks displaces one of the three mentioned above. I don’t subscribe to that theory. The only way I see that happening is if an injury occurs, which is why Hicks started seeing consistent at-bats in the first place. The second is that Hicks plays everyday by giving one of the starters a rest. This is definitely a more feasible solution. The third route is playing Matt Holliday at first base and putting all four outfielders into the lineup, with one at DH. This makes a ton of sense as well. Hicks is a good defender and has the strongest arm in the outfield. Ellsbury has an elbow issue, so….There’s also the possibility that Judge starts to struggle. The adjustments are going to come. It’s just a matter of when, not if. If Judge struggles, that could mean more time for Hicks. There are many avenues to playing time, so I’m not too concerned regarding it. Bottom line is this: if Hicks continues to hit then he’s going to play.

To answer the question Has Hicks Figured Out the Matrix? There has only been one in my lifetime to reach that level. His name was Barry Bonds. Take out the fact that he was a Giant and his head mushroomed four hat sizes over his career, the dude was The One. His swinging strike rate was often in the 4% range and swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone was often 11%!!! All while maintaining contact rates in the high-80s to 90% range and clubbing 70 home runs. He literally got one pitch to hit and he would have the patience to wait for it and rarely missed. Insane. Anyways, Hicks is in the zone right now. There’s double-digit home run and stolen base upside. He won’t reach the Bonds-zone, but few will.

VERDICT

Image result for bull in matrix graphics

 

 

   
  1. CMUTimmah says:
    (link)

    I agree, his production has surprised this year…. but is that because they are putting him in positions to succeed?

    He was dreadful against LHP last year (and the rest of the time he’s been in the Matrix). Nearly all of his counting stats and ratios were driven by RHP opponents. I understand he has hit well against LHP through 36 ABs (.300 avg, 2 HRs, 5/7 BB/K) but historicals tell us it’s not sustainable.

    Is he a batty call when facing RHP and he gets put in the lineup on the reg? You bet. Is he a guy you plug into an OF spot when he plays on the reg? To quote Grey, “Meh, I think we have better.”

    • Son

      Son says:
      (link)

      @CMUTimmah: He was dreadful against LHP pitching last year for sure, but in every other year he hit lefties better.

      2015 – .307 vs .235
      2014 – .279 vs .178′
      2013 – .203 vs .189

      I get where you and Grey are coming from. I respectfully disagree though. I love the speed, power, contact skills, and approach that Hicks displays. In addition, he’s been batting second in a pretty potent Yankees lineup. I don’t think there are too many guys out there that can put a checkmark next to all of those boxes.

    • goodfold2 says:
      (link)

      @CMUTimmah: grey has advised people to add hicks over many other players in last few weeks, read comments other than one time you asked and you’d see that.

  2. Raindoggg says:
    (link)

    I also like Hicks…..but I like Yonder better as a matrix comparison….he has always had professional bat handling skills and a fine eye as a hitter…..his issue was always no pop……looks like his swing angle change or whatever it is has unlocked his last piece of the matrix puzzle as well…..

    • Son

      Son says:
      (link)

      @Raindoggg: Yeah, can’t argue with that. I remember the chatter in the offseason about Yonder changing his approach. Kind of reminds me of Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy.

  3. Sun Tzu says:
    (link)

    Very nice analysis. Great work…

    • Son

      Son says:
      (link)

      @Sun Tzu: Thank you sir. I like your screen name. I used to often go by Sontzu myself

  4. Bbboston says:
    (link)

    How come people don’t seem to focus on his bating stance change. Earlier in the preseason I’m certain hicks said he was standing taller in the batters box…..not sure what that does, but…..

    • Son

      Son says:
      (link)

      @Bbboston: Ok. I wasn’t aware of that. Definitely have to look further into that. Thanks for mentioning it

  5. Sauceman11 says:
    (link)

    Good day Son,

    Great write up! I jumped on Hicks a couple of weeks back, played him in my lineup over LoCain last week, however sat him this week. My question to you is would you rather own Hicks, or Broxton for ROS? I know different type of hitters, however both face some PT issues. I prefer Hicks game better as he is likely less prone to slump, what are your thoughts? Even better if you had the choice of Hicks, Broxton, Buxton or Altherr..who’s your man?

    • Son

      Son says:
      (link)

      @Sauceman11: Thanks Sauce. Hicks my man

      • Sauceman11 says:
        (link)

        Thanks Son, you da man!

        • Son

          Son says:
          (link)

          @Sauceman11: Haha. Anytime Sauce

  6. goodfold2 says:
    (link)

    much more evidence (it’s put out every year by baseball forecaster last few) that players in particular pitchers regress much more AFTER being paid in long term deals than players play better BEFORE getting them. obviously this would apply less to some players. i would think in general a guy breaking out from previous norms as he hits his physical peak might be one group that could in fact do that.

    • goodfold2 says:
      (link)

      @goodfold2: and as far as “playing through pain” players do this anyway, and it’s a detriment to their own performance (often longer term in addition to short) and certainly to their teams. this is probably more true of pitchers and baseball in general when compared to other sports, particularly football/hockey.

      • Son

        Son says:
        (link)

        @goodfold2: I agree, but some players are more laissez faire about it than others. There are some external factors that focus players a little more to fight through the pain. As for being a detriment, I’m with you. I usually think players should heal up fully before coming back. With that said, Kirk Gibson anyone?!

    • Son

      Son says:
      (link)

      @goodfold2: That makes sense. I’m thinking one of the explanations is that many get long-term deals when they are at their peak or past it, so regression is more pronounced. I agree with your last sentence. Physical peak also coincides with a level of maturity as well.

Comments are closed.