During a season where the Yankees are having their best start since 1998, there has been little to critique about the team. Aaron Hicks, however, has been the exception. After stating in spring training that his goal was to have a 30 HR/30 SB season, it is safe to say he will fall well short of those benchmarks.
The Yankees signed Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million contract extension that began in 2019. At the time, Hicks was coming off a career year, amassing 4.2 WAR while blending power and plate discipline with solid defense in center field. Since then, a malady of injuries have stolen seasons and athleticism from the outfielder. Hicks has only managed to play in 192 games since signing his extension.
The injury history is long and discouraging:
- Spring Training 2019 – Back strain, misses first month and a half of season.
- August 2019 – Elbow injury requires eventual Tommy John surgery, misses rest of 2019 regular season (but somehow plays in October).
- May 2021 – Wrist injury that requires surgery, misses rest of 2021.
Simply put, the Aaron Hicks the Yankees are playing in 2022 is a shell of the player who signed that extension in 2019.
That extension is part of the reason Hicks is very difficult to move on from. Including the 2022 season, Hicks is still owed $40 million and won’t be a free agent until after the 2025 season.
Trading Hicks would be ideal. However, no team will take on his contract without the Yankees either eating money or attaching prospect value. At that point, the Yankees’ best move would simply be to DFA Hicks in order to clear the roster spot.
Part of what made Hicks such an asset was his great throwing arm from the outfield, along with 20-homer pop as a switch hitter. It seems his arm has not recovered from Tommy John and his wrist injury has left him with little-to-no pop.
Here’s Hicks in 2016 recording (at the time) the fastest outfield throw ever recorded by Statcast:
Now here is the same player not even attempting to throw out noted speed merchant Pablo Sandoval in 2021:
The videos speak for themselves. Ever since his elbow injury in 2019, Hicks has been unable to control the running game from the outfield.
Looking at Hicks’ batting, his biggest issue has been a lack of damage done on pitches to hit in the zone. Hicks still walks plenty and has excellent plate discipline. According to Statcast, Hicks is in the 97th percentile in Walk% and the 93rd percentile in Chase Rate. strong indicators of elite plate discipline.
The other side of the coin is Hicks is in the second percentile in Barrel% and the third percentile in xSLG%.
This contrast perfectly illustrates how Hicks is not making poor swing decisions, but rather has been incapable of punishing pitchers for their mistakes. If Hicks cannot leverage his plate discipline into anything more than walks, he will be in for a very long summer.
This once again ties into his injury history, as it is probable that the torn tendon sheath in his wrist that sidelined him for all of 2021 has also sapped his power. A similar injury happened to Mark Teixeira during his time with the Yankees, and he had trouble rediscovering his power for a long time even after rejoining the lineup. Perhaps the Yankees are hoping the same will happen to Hicks, and he will become more productive as the season goes on. Luckily for him and the Yankees, they keep winning ballgames, giving Hicks a long leash to work his way back toward productivity.