Aaron Hicks: Why Won’t You Swing?

I’ll confess that I was once a firm believer in Aaron Hicks, and that I’d be remiss to cast him off after just 442 plate appearances in the major leagues. But the numbers don’t lie: he has been terrible in those plate appearances, sporting a .285 wOBA while amassing a -1.0 WAR.

Thus, I can understand why the switch-hitting center fielder would be a little reluctant to swing the bat. When he does, bad things usually happen. But a career Swing% of 38.7 is not going to work for a player of Hicks’ ilk. For perspective, Tim Lincecum’s career Swing% is 42.5. Yes, Tim Lincecum swings the bat more often than Aaron Hicks.

But what about drawing walks? Hicks certainly does that, and at an impressive rate (17.8% in 2014) to boot. Thanks to this increased number (which was just 7.7% in 2013), Hicks is getting on base at a respectable clip of .336, which aligns fairly well with his minor league career (.376).

While drawing walks is obviously a valuable trait, especially for someone who stole 32 bases as recently as 2012 in Double-A, Hicks is going to have to start swinging the bat at some point if he wants to have an extended major league career.

What’s most troubling about Hicks’ swing rates isn’t necessarily the low overall percentage; rather, it’s his penchant for taking pitches that are in the zone. This season, Hicks’ Z-Swing% is just 54.6, well short of the league average of 64.6. Further, 17 of Hicks’ 33 strikeouts this season have been looking. With a Z-Contact% of 88.6 and an overall Contact% of 80.2, this is unacceptable.

What happens when Hicks does actually swing the bat? Well, it’s admittedly not particularly pretty. He has a career LD% of 16.3, which puts him well below this year’s league average of 20.0. Almost half (48.1%) of his batted balls are hit on the ground, and the remaining 35.6% hit in the air.

But it’s fair to surmise that if Hicks would swing at more pitches in the zone, his LD% would see an increase, which would in turn increase his BABIP, which is just .247 in his career. Heck, even if he swung at more pitches out of the zone he’d probably see an increase in both of these numbers.

Looking at how pitchers are attacking Hicks gives further insight as to why his LD% is so low. This year, Hicks is seeing fastballs 54.4% percent of the time, compared to the league average of 57.6. Not a huge difference, but enough to suggest that pitchers feel more confident attacking him with offspeed and breaking pitches. Hicks is seeing 12.3% curveballs and 18.1% changeups, well above the league average of 9.8 and 10.4, respectively.

Ironically, Hicks’ LD per BIP against offspeed pitches is an astounding 28.57 this season, compared to rates of 19.57 against hard pitches and 11.11 against breaking pitches. Since 72.5% of the pitches that Hicks has seen this year have been either fastballs or changeups, it’s baffling that he remains so reluctant at the plate.

This data suggests that, while Hicks may never reach the expectations set when dubbed a top prospect, he can at least be a useful if not above average player for the Twins if he would just swing the bat more.

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Baseball lover, beer maker and drinker. Follow on Twitter: @MattFoster86

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jim S.
jim S.

Hicks is apparently giving up switch-hitting, and now will bat only right-handed.