It wasn’t horribly long ago that there was a lot of buzz on Yankee Twitter–the small segment of it I see, anyway–about how Aaron Hicks may not have been worth all the effort the Yankees have put into him. This may have been partially (mostly?) out of a desire to get Clint Frazier onto the team, which I can’t be mad about. Regardless of the source, however, much that talk has died down, though I’ve heard this on sports radio as well. Michael Kay is fond of saying how much “the Yankees LOVE Hicks,” which implies quite easily that he doesn’t. Even yesterday on WFAN, Chris Moore was making a point about low batting averages league-wide and specifically called out Hicks’s average, without any further context. You’d think that after his powerful June and July that talk might stop. Alas…
Generally speaking, Hicks has had moderate power in his career. There always seemed to be potential for more there as he showed respectable ISO marks in limited time with the Twins: .146 in 2013 and .142 in 2015. Are those eye-catching? Not really, but they’re good for a center fielder who also shows a good deal of patience at the plate. While 2016 with the Yankees wasn’t horribly powerful–.119–he flashed good power in 2017 (.209) and has moved even further with a .244 ISO this year; he’s also set a new career high of 16 homers, passing his mark of 15 from 2017. With increased playing time, Hicks has tapped into that power potential.
While not quite reaching a .200 ISO in April, he was at a more than respectable .192; his raw SLG for April was .432 It dipped in May down to .161, but that was still above his career mark. That ISO and a good walk rate and relatively low strikeout rate were about the only good things for Hicks in the month of May; a .236 BABIP left his raw numbers looking pretty paltry for the month. This is when calls for him to be replaced were the loudest. Then, things took off in June and carried into July.
In June, Hicks slugged .547, thanks to a monster .267 ISO and a 21.4% HR/FB mark. This all helped lead to a .373 wOBA and 138 wRC+, making it his most productive month…until July. So far, Hicks has a .443 wOBA and a 186 wRC+, slugging .683 (!) with a .439 (!) ISO. He’s basically been Aaron Judge instead of Aaron Hicks for the month of July. So what happened in these last two months?
As so much of hitting tends to, it starts with the fastball. In April and May, Hicks did a good job of making contact with fastballs–3.8% whiff/swing rate–and making good contact on the pitch: 33.33% LD/BIP. However, just 4.76% of the fastballs he hit into the air made it out. When we fast forward to June and July, we see a big jump in whiff/swing rate, but a maintenance of a high line drive rate and a widely improved HR/FB+LD%: 16.7%. Hicks has also managed to elevate sinkers and changeups enough to hit them out at relatively high rates, too. Lastly, let’s take a look at his zone profile for June and July and take note of how massively he’s hammering anything in the middle of the plate, especially up–.909 ISO!
Aaron Hicks is someone the Yankees have shown faith in and June and July of this year have shown great rewards for that faith and patience. By elevating the ball and attacking balls in the middle of the plate, he’s shown his power potential in as strong a way as he ever has.