The silver lining with Aaron Hicks’ awful season with 2022 Yankees


During one of the New York Yankees-Milwaukee Brewers games over the weekend, I found myself watching a familiar scenario. Aaron Hicks was at the plate. He fell behind in the count 1-2 to Brewers pitcher Jason Alexander.

But Hicks stood strong. He let a pitch go for ball two. Then he fouled a ball of. He was making the pitcher work.

Generally, that’s a good sign. The longer you make a pitcher work, the more likely they are to get frustrated and make a mistake.

Unfortunately, Hicks has not experienced much of that this season. Nor did he in this at-bat. Alexander struck him out, swinging, with a sinker.

Hicks has been to the 2022 Yankees what Gary Sánchez was in 2020 and 2021. His past success, coupled with his recent struggles, have made him the Yankee pariah.

Yet, ever the optimist, I’ve kept my eyes open for signs that the old Hicks is still in there … somewhere. I’ve noticed that even when Hicks’ at-bats end fruitlessly, he never goes down without a fight.

My in-game observations proved correct. This season, Hicks is averaging a career-high 4.42 pitches/plate appearance. While he hasn’t had quite enough playing time to qualify for the Baseball Reference leaderboard, were he to qualify, he’d be in first place. The current leader in pitches per plate appearance is Max Muncy with 4.32.

What surprised me during my research is that I assumed Hicks’ ability to draw pitches while having a below average offensive season was unusual. It’s not. Muncy has been a below-average offensive player this season. So have fellow pitch-drawers Ryan McMahon, Mike Yastrzemski and Cody Bellinger.

And maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. A player’s ability to command respect and intimidate pitchers into throwing away from the strike zone can be based on their reputation — not just their plate skills. I trust the name Cody Bellinger still strikes fear in the heart of many a pitcher.

Plate discipline has long been one of Hicks’ strengths. And that strength has remained on display in the 2022 campaign. His on-base-percentage is .326. Alone, that’s not a great number (.350 is the generally benchmark for a good .OBP), but when one considers that Hicks’ batting average is a mere .213, suddenly that .OBP looks impressive. Hicks’ ability to draw walks has raised his .OBP by 113 points!

To further contextualize this number, the mean batting average in baseball this year is .243. The mean on-base-percentage is .312. Hicks has managed to put up an on-base-percentage 14 points above the major league average, despite hitting at a rate 30 points below average.

So what can we expect from Hicks going forward? Can he keep drawing walks and fighting out long at-bats if his other offensive skills don’t return? There’s reason for doubt.

Again, in order to draw walks, a hitter has to put at least some pressure on pitchers to throw outside of the strike zone. If Hicks were to continue playing with his current approach, pitchers would eventually learn they could afford to throw him strikes, making it impossible for him to draw walks.

That said, perhaps Hicks’ hitting ability is not utterly decimated. His exit velocity has dropped, but not drastically (it’s 0.8 MPH below his career average and 1.8 MPH below his career high). It doesn’t really look like all of his strength has been sapped by his long string of unfortunate injuries over the last few years.

Professional sports have a both a physical and mental element. It’s possible that Hicks’ baseball instincts, and not his body, are the problem. Several years of interrupted baseball may have set Hicks’ hitting game back, but don’t rule out a more complete comeback in 2023 … if he’s still here.