Is Aaron Hicks Improving?
By Brad Swanson
May 13, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielderAaron Hicks
(32) raises his helmet to the fans after hitting his second home run of the day in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Note: This was written prior to Tuesday’s game, when Aaron Hicks went 0-5 with 3 K’s and just generally tried to make this article look stupid/foolish. However, I still stand by my opinion on the subject, but the stats are slightly off as a result. My apologies, I was at a talent show last night. Aaron Hicks did not perform. ~Brad
On May 13, 2013, Aaron Hicks had his breakout game. He slugged two home runs and robbed another home run from Adam Dunn. It seemed like this was the date when Hicks would start to turn the corner and become the hitter that many think he will become. Prior to and including that game, you could make a serious argument that Hicks was turning things around. He had gone 8 for 38 in 9 May games, for an average of .210. While that number is hardly impressive, it is certainly better than the roughly .100 average he had produced to that point.
Since that game, Hicks is only 2 for 21 and has just one walk. He is basically back to hitting around .100 and many are starting to call for changes. Perhaps Hicks needs some time at AAA. Perhaps he needs a few days off. I can see these as rational considerations, and I might even act on them at this point. I always felt that Hicks should be given two months at minimum, and then be evaluated on his overall performance. We’ve reached nearly two months and if Hicks is sent down in the next few days, it will be a disappointing, but understandable decision.
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to break Hicks’s season into four quadrants:
- Quadrant 1 – Tons of strikeouts, no contact
- Quadrant 2 – Fewer strikeouts, still no contact, increased walks
- Quadrant 3 – More contact, more power, more strikeouts, fewer walks
- Quadrant 4 – Even more contact, no power, few strikeouts, few walks, sparse hits
This is a rather informal exercise, but it does show that Hicks has not put all of his tools together at any point this season (save for that amazing game on May 13). When Hicks was drawing a lot of walks, he wasn’t making any contact. When he started making contact, his strikeouts ticked up and his walks ticked down. When he took care of the strikeouts, he started making more contact, but most of the contact resulted in outs. This is where Hicks is right now. He’s making contact, but nearly all of the contact results in an out.
Isn’t that an improvement though? The biggest issue I had with Hicks early in the season was the strikeout totals. He struck out 26 times in April, but only 11 times so far in May. That is an improvement from a 31.3% strikeout rate in April to 18.6% in May. League average has been 19.4% this season. Hicks has always had high strikeout totals, so this performance should not be extremely surprising. In fact, if Hicks can keep his rate around league average for the rest of the season, I would consider that a huge step forward in his development.
To be fair, Hicks’s walk rate has decreased in May. He posted a 13.3% walk rate in April, but is only at 8.5% in May. However, both months are above the league average of 8.3%. Basically, Hicks has been at about league average in both walk and strikeout rate this month. These numbers are extremely important to remember, as Hicks is a 23-year-old rookie, with no experience above AA prior to this season.
Contact has been Hicks’s biggest issue. Early on, he wasn’t making contact. Now, he is making contact, but all his contact results in outs. I am encouraged by the increased contact. His batting average on balls in play is .174, where league average is .296. Part of the reason why Hicks has such a low BABIP does stem from the type of contact he is making. In April, he had a line drive rate of 11.1% In May, it’s up to 16.7%. League average is 20.4%, so Hicks has some room to improve. However, the increase in his line drive rate is another encouraging factor.
Hicks has improved in May by just about any offensive statistic you can use. While his improvement might not be monumental (and aided a bit by one crazy, breakout game), it is hard not to be encouraged by his improvement the last few weeks. For some, he has not improved enough and needs to be sent to AAA for more seasoning. If that happens, I’d understand the decision. I don’t know that I would agree with it though. The reality is that Hicks needs to learn how to hit MLB pitching, and going to AAA will not really help him do that.
Personally, I’d stick with Hicks for a few more weeks. I know that fans are frustrated, but sending a player to the Minors as a punishment for poor performance does nothing for me. If there was a young, promising player at AAA (say, Joe Benson) who was ready to come up and give the Twins an idea of who they are as a player, then I’d support a demotion for Hicks. Since the two options seem to be Clete Thomas and Antoan Richardson, I’d flat out prefer to watch Aaron Hicks struggle and continue to adjust.
I can’t help how I feel, but how do you feel? Do you think Aaron Hicks needs time at AAA? Who would you play in center in his place? Please respond in the comments below.