Breaking down Aaron Hicks’ quietly stellar season

New York Yankees' Aaron Hicks is congratulated after his solo home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Friday, April 13, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

When the New York Yankees traded catcher John Ryan Murphy for center fielder Aaron Hicks in 2015, it was a move made by a front office that had faith in the potential of Aaron Hicks. Back at that time, there were not many certainties in his game. Everyone knew he had a strong arm, that’s for sure. The bat, on the other hand, had not come around as expected quite yet. Nonetheless, Hicks was the 14th overall pick in the 2008 June Amateur draft for a reason. The Yankees took a chance, albeit an educated one.

Fast-forward to 2018 and the Yankees now have one of the best center fielders in all of baseball. However, Hicks started his Yankee career with a bad 2016 season when in 123 games played he slashed .217/.281/.336 with just eight home runs and 31 RBI. He was a negative WAR player, at -0.2. Hicks took a big step in 2017, improving his offense and even taking further steps with his defense. Hicks’ BB% jumped from 8.3% in 2016 to 14.1% in 2017. He also nearly doubled his home run total from 2016 with 15. The only real thing that stopped Hicks from reaching his full potential that season was an injury that kept him out for 74 games.

New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks catches a line drive by Boston Red Sox’s Brock Holt during the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

In 2018, the Yankees are getting what seems to be the final product, or close to it. Hicks is slashing .253/.373/.475 with 24 home runs (tripling his total from 2016) and 68 RBI, both career highs. Hicks is a 4.5 WAR player this season, good for 23rd best in all of baseball. He is tied in 30th in the MLB in wOBA at .365 and sits at 25th in wRC+ with 131. Even more than that, he is fifth in all of baseball in BB% at 15.8%. What’s even crazier than these numbers is that Hicks has been getting fairly unlucky. His xBA (expected batting average) is .269, and his XWOBA is .387. Most of these “luck” numbers have to do with the fact that his HARD% is 42%, six percentage points above league average. Furthermore, his BABIP is only .271, below the league average of .296.

So, despite the already stellar season that Hicks has put together for the Yankees, there’s still room for improvement. At least, the numbers show it. Hicks has been the victim of playing in the shadow of players such as Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Luis Severino. On any other team, Hicks would be close to, if not the star. Not to say that playing with those talents is a bad thing or a negative, it means more wins, but it takes away from the season that Hicks is having in the eyes of the casual fan.

New York Yankees’ Aaron Hicks rounds the bases with a home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

For all we know, Hicks enjoys being the second best player on the Yankees, regarding WAR, but not having to deal with the all-star scrutiny. Maybe, even, with continued success, Hicks will get more of a magnifying glass put over him. For now, though, it’s clear that Hicks is a project that has panned out in a big way. Hicks has one more year of arbitration before he hits the open market. The Yankees would be foolish not to re-sign the highly productive 28-year old.

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