Weekly Mailbag: Aaron Hicks, Preferred Match-Ups, and Debating 2017 vs. 2019!
It always seemed inevitable that the Yankees and Astros would face-off in the ALCS this year, but it’s pretty cool that it’s finally happening. Give the Rays a ton of credit – they pushed the ALDS to the brink, but the Astros’ lineup was just too powerful to overcome. I never expected the Rays to go down without a fight, so I’m glad they made a series of it – it proves that the Astros are not invincible, as many national media writers and commenters would allow you to believe. This ALCS is going to be as much fun as 2017…hopefully, just with a better ending.
Without any further ado, in this week’s mailbag, we’ll debate the merits of adding Aaron Hicks to the ALCS roster, discuss my ALCS match-up preference, and talk about the relative merits of the 2017 team vs. the 2019 team. Let’s get at it:
Dave asks: Aaron Hicks is supposedly healthy – does he have a place on the ALCS roster?
I was originally going to write a full article about this to post earlier this week, but life got in the way, so we’ll talk about it in shorter form here. A completely healthy Aaron Hicks is an asset to the everyday lineup. In 2017 and 2018 combined, Hicks was worth a combined 8.6 bWAR while hitting well above the average CF. When completely healthy over the last two years, Hicks was a do-it-all, All-Star caliber player. Even this year, when healthy, Hicks was worth 1.3 bWAR in just 255 plate appearances. While that is certainly below the performance threshold Hicks set for himself prior to this year, particularly offensively where Hicks was just 3% better than league average according to OPS+, he is still clearly a valuable player even in diminished form.
However, Hicks has not played any meaningful baseball since the beginning of August, and he has not had the chance to hit against professional caliber pitching at any level in a real game setting in that time. Hicks would now have to hit against arguably the best pitching staff in baseball in the ALCS. Even with the upgrade Hicks represents over Gardner defensively, I’m not sure that you can justify starting Hicks over anyone in the outfield in the ALCS.
That said, the Yankees proved during the ALDS that they are quick to use defensive replacements in the outfield when the situation warrants it, subbing out Giancarlo Stanton in LF multiple times during the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins. Given that fact, we have to look at whether Hicks is an upgrade defensively over either of Stanton or Maybin. In any substitution situation, particularly if Stanton is subbed out, it would be easy enough to flip Gardner to LF and insert Hicks in CF, the position at which he is most comfortable.
As good as Garnder has been in CF this season, Hicks is still an upgrade defensively. Hicks has a better arm, and most of the metrics that approximate range are mixed, but generally give Hicks the edge in CF as well. We know that Stanton has some adventures in LF, so he is not necessarily someone you want out there late in a close game. Add in the fact that Stanton only just returned from a knee injury, and it’s pretty easy to determine that Hicks is more valuable than Stanton defensively.
That leaves Maybin. Maybin has been a fun story this year, and he clawed his way to retaining a roster spot this year – it’s been fun, and I’ve always been an irrational fan of Cameron Maybin. That said, Maybin is not a great outfielder, despite obvious physical tools. The metrics say that Maybin is an average-below average outfielder, and his metrics in LF this year are decidedly negative (-5 rRDS in LF in 2019). Maybin is a decent baserunner, and while he has good speed, I’m not sure that he is actually a better baserunner than Hicks. Baserunning and defense are the only reasons that Maybin should see a game in the ALCS, despite his homer in the ALDS. I think Hicks is pretty clearly an upgrade over Maybin at least defensively, and you do not lose anything on the basepaths.
Others have opined that Hicks could take Wade or Voit’s spot. Wade is a game-changer on the basepaths in a way that no one else other than Gardner is capable of being, so I think Wade holds onto his spot. Still others have written that Hicks could take Voit’s spot on the roster. This argument makes sense to me, particularly if the Yankees don’t see any matchups that make them want to play Voit. That said, I still can see that Voit brings something to the roster off the bench that no one else does, and that’s pop off the bench against a tough lefty. I think Voit will hold on to his roster spot in the ALCS.
To wrap this up, yes, I think Hicks deserves a spot on the ALCS roster, if healthy. If I were constructing the ALCS roster, I would give Maybin’s bench role to Hicks, assuming Hicks’ throwing arm is really healthy.
Brian asks: You didn’t answer on Thursday – who did you want the Yanks’ to play in the ALCS?
I think that from a performance perspective, obviously you want the lesser of two evils if you want the Yankees to go to the World Series. As good as they were this year, that means the Rays.
That said, I actually wanted the Astros to make it to the ALCS this year. I know that makes me a bit nuts, but hear me out. I know that it’s a tougher matchup for the Yankees, by far. The Yankees are going to have a hard time beating the Astros in a 7-game series. On paper, the Astros are a nearly-perfect roster. If this game were played on paper, the Astros would win the World Series in a majority of simulations.
Baseball fans deserve to see the best teams play each other in October. Personally, I thought that the Yankees and Astros were the two best teams in baseball in the 2019 Regular Season. Maybe I’m biased towards AL teams, but that’s really what I think.
Yankees vs. Astros should be a great series, and I still have the feeling of unfinished business from the last time these teams faced off in the ALCS in 2017. I think that baseball fans are in for a treat.
If the Yankees get by the Astros to make it into the World Series, no one will say that they didn’t earn it.
Jeff asks: The Yankees went with the same lineup configuration during all 3 games in the ALDS…does that happen again in the ALCS?
I was dead wrong on my prediction for a shifting lineup based on pitching in the ALDS. Boone went with the same lineup for all 3 games, and it worked to perfection. Personally, I see no reason why Boone wouldn’t plan to go with that strategy again during the ALCS.
Obviously there are a ton of variables that go into lineup decisions, and I think Boone could decide to change lineups if the lineup is hapless during the first couple of games, someone is nursing an undisclosed injury, etc.
Boone seems to have learned a lot from his playoff experiences last year, and I trust him to make a good lineup call coming into the series. We’ll have to see what happens, but I expect to see the same lineup in ALCS game 1 as we saw in ALDS game 3.
Bob asks: Which season has been more fun – 2017 or 2019?
I’d like to reserve an answer to this one until after the season is over. The 2017 season is near and dear to my heart. Few of us thought the Yankees would rip through the run that happened that season, and we saw Judge, Sanchez, Didi, Hicks, and Sevy all establish themselves as part of the youngest team core since the Core Four (Five…gotta include Bernie). I had more fun watching the team that season than any other since I was a kid.
This year is right up there, but the story isn’t over yet. I promise, I’ll get back to you when the season ends.
That’s all for this week! Thanks as always for your questions. For those of you who have never written in (and if you haven’t, please do!), email your mailbag questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. I hope you guys are looking forward to the ALCS as much as I am – enjoy!