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Aaron Hicks: The biggest X-Factor for the Yankees

Ask a Yankee fan about Aaron Hicks, and you’ll illicit a variety of responses. He’s either a great player who has health issues, or he’s never been useful.

I was one of the biggest Hicks supporters coming into the year, raving about his offensive excellence and his consistency at the plate.

That took a turn for the worst in 2021, with Hicks struggling and getting hurt. His 76 wRC+ and .294 OBP were his lowest marks as a Yankee since he first came over in 2016.

That being said, his struggles were entirely different, and I’d say that his 2021 was a blip in the radar. That being said, Hicks is without a doubt the biggest question mark on this roster, and he’s going to be the biggest X-Factor for the Yankees in 2022.

Should Aaron Hicks Still be the Yankees Center Fielder?

He had a horrible 2020 defensively, posting -8 DRS, a -11.6 UZR/150, and -4 OAA. Mind you this was only in 54 games, so I’m quite worried about his defense going forward. He had a positive OAA and UZR this year, but it’s a small sample size and could be an outlier.

But his arm is still pretty good, having the 14th best ARM in 2020 for outfielders, and I think he could really thrive in a corner outfield spot. His range isn’t what it once was, and Joey Gallo can slot into CF perfectly. He has 4 DRS and a 13.4 UZR/150 out there, and with his 120-130 wRC+ bat he would immediately become a top 5-6 CF.

Hicks profiles well in LF, and could stay healthier with less ground to cover. He can have spot starts in CF, but he shouldn’t be the starter.

The Yankees could also add someone like Seiya Suzuki and make Hicks a rotating 4th outfielder, getting reps in all 3 outfield spots as everyone rotates between the OF and DH spots.

That added insurance can guarantee the Yankees have at least 3 starting caliber outfielders on the roster at all times. Yes, Hicks is more of a corner outfielder now and he’s injury prone, but that doesn’t make him bad. Hicks’ offensive talent is often underplayed, and I think that should be corrected.

Yes, Aaron Hicks is a Good Hitter

Hicks has some of the best plate discipline in the entire sport. He boasts a mere 18.4% O-Swing rate since 2019, the 13th lowest in the sport. The only batters with a higher barrel and lower chase rate are Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Max Muncy, Mitch Garver, and…Clint Frazier. Here are their wRC+ numbers since 2019:

Mike Trout: 175 (1st)
Juan Soto: 159 (2nd)
Mitch Garver: 135 (22nd)
Max Muncy: 130 (39th)
Clint Frazier: 110 (128th)

While Clint is the obvious outlier here, Hicks is doing something that only the elite hitters in baseball do;

Rarely chase and hammer the pitches they swing at.

Hicks did that really well from the right-side of the plate in 2021, pulling the ball 52.2% of the time with his high launch angle, allowing him to slug a whopping .545.

He was way less disciplined, with a sub 6% BB% and above 30% K% from the right side, but the pull rates from his left side were way low. He pulled the ball 38.6% of the time from the left handed side, and while opposite field groundballs are good, opposite field flyballs are not.

His walk rate will always be around 10-15%, it’s just a matter of doing damage with pitches in the zone. He had a .334 xwOBA in 2021, so it wasn’t like he wasn’t posting a strong quality of contact, it just wasn’t optimized properly from the left-side.

There’s a lot to like about Hicks’ offensive game, but do projections see the same thing?

What To Expect From Hicks In 2022

While the answer “expect the unexpected” is rather accurate for Hicks, it’s boring. We have publicly available projection systems that can account for a lot of variables with a player. Steamer is my personal favorite due to the fact that it has a strong correlation with next year wRC+, and Hicks does pretty well with Steamer. Here’s how Steamer thinks Hicks will do in 2022:

583 PA
.332 wOBA
111 wRC+
2.5 fWAR

All things considered, that’s a pretty reasonable projection for Hicks, and it’s a pretty solid season. The best bet for the Yankees is they grab another outfielder who can start and play CF as well (SEIYA SUZUKI PLEASE) and Hicks rotates in and out of the lineup. Switch hitting outfielders with great plate discipline are valuable, but Hicks shouldn’t be depended on to play 150 games either.

If Aaron Hicks takes on Gardner’s role, the Yankees are going to have a loaded outfield for 2022, and it’ll provide fans and most importantly the Yankees a much less stressful season.