The Forgotten Cog
Photo Courtesy of Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports
The Yankees absorbed a volume of injuries that few winning MLB teams have ever experienced in 2019. Prior to the shutdown, 2020 was shaping up to be more of the same. Despite the persistent cloud that injuries created for the Yankees, hope was found in the Yankees’ extensive depth and “next man up” mentality. For sure, the Yankees have received excellent performances around the diamond by both likely and unlikely sources over the past couple of seasons. As much as all of us are reeling from the loss of baseball for the foreseeable future, there is no denying that the shutdown works to the Yankees’ advantage with regards to allowing injured players to get healthy in time for the season, as terrible as the reasons for that shutdown are. Projecting the improvements to the Yankees roster for big names like Stanton, Judge, and Paxton are pretty obvious. However, the Yankees have other injured players who are nearly as important. To highlight that, I’m going to indulge myself with one of my favorite exercises: blind studies.
Below is a list of four players and their relative contributions at the plate and their total value. Check it out:
Blind Player Study – Click to Enlarge
Obviously, this is a pretty limited subset of statistics, but they get to the core of what most of us look for in good hitters: plate discipline, power, total offensive contribution, and total cumulative value. All of the players above draw walks at at least an above-average rate, while all have above-average pop. Player B has the most power, Players A and D are walk machines, while Player C has a high offensive output despite a high strikeout rate. Based on total value, all of the players are likely at least solid defensive contributors. If forced to choose one player, who would you choose?
Player B is Brett Gardner in 2019. Player C is Mike Tauchman in 2019. And I cheated for Players A and D. Player A is Aaron Hicks in 2017. Player D is Aaron Hicks in 2018. Gardy had a true renaissance in 2019, finding launch angle and the fountain of youth to put together a nearly All-Star caliber campaign. Tauchman came out of nowhere to play great corner outfield defense with better offensive output than any of us could have predicted in a small sample size. Hicks spent 2019 alternately hurt and struggling to find his groove at the plate, prior to ultimately tearing his UCL. However, I think it is fair to say that Hicks was never fully healthy in 2019, thus I’m not sure how much we can gain by evaluating his numbers from last season.
Hicks was a main cog in the Yankee machine in 2017 and 2018. He is credited by playing at least solid defense by most metrics, he’s a solid baserunner, and he is more valuable at the plate than most people give him credit for. Most importantly, in a lineup of bombers, Hicks consistently has shown elite plate discipline, walking at elite rates, while hardly ever striking out by modern standards. Even in his diminished 2019 season, Hicks got on-base at an acceptable rate despite hitting just .235. Just in quick snapshot form, Hicks compares at least comparably to Gardy and Tauchman, and I think the possibility for regression is strong for both guys, either due to age or pedigree.
With all of the major injuries the Yankees have sustained over the last year and change, I think that Hicks has managed to fall under the radar. I miss baseball terribly, but the break will give the Yankees a chance to regain some of their injured talent. I think that recency bias has caused many Yankee fans to overlook Hicks’ contributions to the lineup, when healthy. The last time we saw a truly healthy version of Aaron Hicks, he was an All-Star caliber player. Assuming that Hicks’ elite arm is intact following Tommy John Surgery, I think we should all be excited to see his return – he may very well be one of the 3 best outfielders on the current roster.