Let me read you a stat really quick:
Since the start of 2017, there have been only three players in the league to have an OBP above .360, at least 40 home runs, at least 140 walks, and at least 1.5 defensive WAR.
Two of them aren’t very surprising, those two being Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez. Now what about the third one? Mike Trout? Aaron Judge? Maybe a guy like Alex Bregman or Francisco Lindor?
Nope. The third man is Aaron Hicks. What’s even crazier is that Hicks had 400 less at-bats than both of them in that time span.
Don’t worry, you read that right. No, I’m not saying Aaron Hicks is one of the best players in baseball. But here’s what I am saying: Aaron Hicks is criminally underrated.
The switch-hitting Aaron Hicks was acquired from the Twins before the 2016 season for at-the-time backup catcher JR Murphy, and at the time it was a curious move. JR was coming off a season where he was arguably the best backup catcher in baseball, and Hicks was coming off 3 straight disappointing seasons to start his major league career. Plus, at the time the Yankees had Ellsbury (who wasn’t terrible yet), Gardner and Beltran all cemented in their starting outfield.
The Twins GM at the time, Terry Ryan, had said it was tough to part with Hicks because he felt like Hicks had finally turned a corner after showing some promise in his 3rd season. Cashman echoed the same sentiment, saying “I think he had his coming out party last year and showed up as a viable, everyday Major League player.” So the Yankees had some hopes for him going into 2016.
However, he did not meet those expectations, hitting a paltry .217/.281/.336, in 361 plate appearances. Once again, he showed his promise at times, but he wasn’t what he lived up to be.
Then, in 2017, something finally clicked. Hicks came out the gate on fire, hitting to an incredible .290/.398/.515 with 10 home runs, a .388 wOBA and a 144 wRC+ through June 25th, but then he suffered a hamstring injury, and wasn’t as effective the rest of the season.
Coming into 2018, expectations were sky high for Hicks. Well, things got off to a rocky start for Hicks, as he only played on Opening Day and then was placed on the DL with a leg injury. He wasn’t out long, but when he came back, he didn’t exactly hit well. He got off to a rocky road, hitting a poor .237/.337/.403 with just 5 home runs and a 103 wRC+ through the end of May. However, he was taking walks and wasn’t striking out, so there was reason to believe he was just shaking off the rust. And man, did he shake off the rust. After June 1st, Hicks finished out the season hitting .255/.378/.493 with 22 home runs and a 137 wRC+.
While it’s good to list his stats, it’s also important to note that Hicks himself as just became a much better hitter. Baseball Savant began publicizing player’s launch angles in 2015, and from 2015-2017, his average launch angles were 10.8, 10.5, and 10.6 respectively. Then in 2018, he saw this metric rise substantially all the way up to 12.5 degrees.
You can see in the graphs that Hicks was putting the ball in the air more, which is a very important factor in his breakout.
Not only this, Hicks saw substantial rises and career highs in many offensive categories, such as BB%, hard hit %, barrel % and exit velocity. Another possible reason for Hicks’ improvement is a notably better ability vs. breaking balls. He set career highs in relatively every statistic against breaking balls, including wOBA, xwOBA, hard hit %, EV, LA and more in 2018.
Going into 2019, the Yankees have a decision to make at leadoff. McCutchen and Hicks were both leading off for the Yankees by the end of the 2018 season after Gardy was moved down in the lineup and to the bench, but Cutch is no longer on the team. Of all the teams that made the playoffs in 2018, only 2 of those teams had a team OBP from the leadoff spot in bottom half of the league. This could just be noise, but leadoff hitters aren’t the same as they use to be. Just 6 years ago in the 2012 season, the MLB had a .324 OBP, 403 home runs, and 815 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot. Fast forward to the 2018 season, the MLB had a .333 OBP, 638 home runs, and 529 stolen bases.
Clearly there’s been a pretty big shift in the definition of a leadoff hitter. Keeping that in mind, Hicks would be the perfect leadoff hitter for the Yankees, as he gets on base at an extremely high clip, has above average power, can actually steal a base at times, and has above average speed, sitting at 28.1 ft/sec.
Typically, stats for a hitter in a specific spot in the lineup really don’t mean anything, but it is interesting to note that Hicks had a .958 OPS batting leadoff in 2018, his second highest OPS of the 9 batting order positions.
The man also has an absolute laser of an arm, regularly being clocked at close to 100 MPH and higher, as shown in the GIF below:
The craziest part is this isn’t even his best throw, considering he’s been clocked at 105.1 MPH from left field to home before, this is just the only GIF I could find. Check out this video so that you can see how wild his arm is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2DsQstoGYw
Hicks also just has such a clean, beautiful swing:
Aaron Hicks was worth 4.9 fWAR in 2018 in only 137 games, and was worth 3.3 fWAR in 2017 in just 88 games, so it’s safe to say Hicks has been nothing short of good these last two seasons. Extrapolating both those numbers over full seasons, Hicks would have been a 6 win player in both 2017 and 18, something that just 3 other big league players have done (Trout, Rendon, Ramirez). As great as Estevan Florial is, there’s no reason to deem him the centerfielder of the future, not when the Yankees have a legitimate top 5 center fielder in the game. Aaron Hicks deserves star treatment from Yankee fans, and it’s about damn time we give it to him.