Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hindsight 20/20: Aaron Hicks

It's easy to second-guess things now right? Aaron Hicks, after lighting things up during Spring Training and landing the starting center-fielder job, is now in about as deep of a funk as a player can have. After last night's game in which Hicks went 0-for-5 with 3 more Ks, there really isn't any direction he can go but up. Wanna see a bad stat line?

2 hits in 35 ABs
16 strikeouts, 2 walks
.165 OPS

To put things into perspective a little bit - Hicks has put 19 baseballs into play so far this season (7 groundballs, 10 flyballs and 2 line drives)...and he's struck out 16 times. According to FanGraphs - Hicks' contact % when he swings at pitches that are in the strike zone is 80.0% and for comparison, Drew Butera had a 89.7% contact rate on pitches in the strike zone during his Twins career (Mauer's lifetime average is 93.2%). When Hicks swings at a pitch that's outside the strike zone, his contact percentage drops to a miserable 55.6%. In over 75% of Aaron Hicks' at-bats this year, he's had a first pitch strike meaning that he's been down 0-1 in most of his at-bats so far this year (7th highest percentage in the Majors right now among qualified hitters).

I point all this out because what's been most surprising to me about Hicks' at-bats is his lack of plate discipline. This is a guy who had a 3:4 BB/K ratio in the Minors and that showed in his career .379 OBP...he has a good eye at the plate, but he's not using it. Even in spring training, Hicks only struck out 16 times in 22 games.

Another thing that baffles me is why Ron Gardenhire continues to bat Hicks at the top of the lineup. Why not drop him down to the bottom of the lineup and see if that takes a little of the pressure off of the 23-year-old rookie?? It can't be because of Hicks' speed -- because that is an asset he isn't able to use unless he starts getting on-base a little bit. Hicks leads the Major Leagues in outs-made (34) for crying out him an extra at-bat per game isn't even what's best for the team.

I realize it's easy to say "I told you so" and "hindsight is 20/20" and all that - but really, this is an experiment the Twins should not have embarked on in the first place. Instead of letting Hicks start the year at Triple-A and continue his development, the organization decided to put Hicks in high-pressure situation where the chances of failure were high. As it stands, they've lost a year of contract control on their young center-fielder and he may end up having to go back to Triple-A anyway. I don't know how much longer the Twins coaches and front-office are going to give this kid, but my guess is that it isn't going to be long, especially after reading today that they might be kicking the tires on Julio Bourbon out of the Rangers organization. I get it that sometimes rookies struggle a bit - but there's a difference between struggling and being vastly over-matched and Aaron Hicks falls into the ladder category.