It has been no secret that the Yankees have not hit as well to start the season as they have in past years.
This is not just a Yankees problem; this is a league-wide problem. The batting average is the lowest it has been since the 1970s.
To me, it is no coincidence that the deadened ball introduced in 2021 is contributing to that. But I want to focus on how this relates to the Yankees, and one player in particular.
The Yankees’ pitching staff has been great recently, and they have found ways to win despite their usually dangerous lineup not firing on all cylinders.
One of the main targets of criticism to start this year is someone that I have expressed my fandom for before in center fielder Aaron Hicks.
During the offseason, I wrote a piece arguing that the Yankees should bat Hicks in the leadoff spot, and that is no longer my position.
I do not think the top third of the lineup that consists of DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge should be touched right now, but I still believe that Hicks can be a productive player for the Yankees.
Aaron Hicks joins the homer party! It’s 4-0 Yanks! pic.twitter.com/VibbTx21nt
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) May 1, 2021
Part of what leads to Hicks getting criticism is the current divide between analytics and old-school fans. Hicks does not put up flashy stats but produces in other ways that do not stand out as much. For instance, his walk rate has been between 12 and 20% from 2017 to 2020.
One of the main struggles for Hicks this year has been hitting from the left side. He is currently batting .167 with a 67 wRC+ as a left-handed hitter, as opposed to .250 with a 137 wRC+ as a right-handed hitter. But Hicks’ batting average as a lefty has climbed nearly 70 points since his early-season struggles when he was hitting under .100 from the left side.
In Hicks’ last 68 plate appearances coming into Wednesday, he has a .232 batting average, a .353 on-base percentage, a .429 slugging percentage, and a 124 wRC+ with a 14.7% walk rate; those numbers are much more in line with the expectations and Hicks’ numbers as a Yankee.
Aaron Hicks getting hot?
— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) May 9, 2021
This is not to say Hicks is completely fixed or should be moved up in the lineup. He has had frustrating defensive lapses this year, and we need to see these hitting trends continue.
The two positions that have lacked offense the most for the Yankees this year are center field and left field. If Hicks continues to post these numbers that align with what he has done since 2017 then the Yankees will look back at this year as one where they got production out of the center fielder despite a very slow start.
With the offense being down all over the league, Hicks regaining that walk rate is something that I think could be sustainable in spite of the deadened ball
His recent stretch of play indicates that might be the case, and that would be a good thing for the Yankees to have in the bottom two-thirds of their order.
Featured Image: Kathy Willens/AP