When the Yankees acquired Aaron Hicks after the 2015 season, nobody predicted that he would become the caliber of player he is today. There was no question that he had potential, given his first-round pedigree and array of tools, but Hicks never fulfilled his promise in his three seasons with Minnesota. Though he started to produce results offensively in 2015, at least against left-handed pitching, Hicks cratered in his debut season in New York. Instead of becoming the useful fourth outfielder and platoon bat that the Yankees thought they were getting, it looked like the acquisition was a bust. Then, come 2017, the story changed.
Nobody would have faulted the Yankees for cutting ties with Hicks after his first year in pinstripes. Of 353 major leaguers with 200 or more plate appearances in 2016, Hicks had the 26th-worst TAv at .220 in 2016. After years of mostly feeble hitting with the Twins, the season appeared to be a confirmation of who Hicks truly was as a hitter. Yet, the organization stuck with him despite over a thousand lackluster big league plate appearances. Finally, in the next season, the Yankees’ belief in Hicks paid off. He started off the 2017 campaign strongly and eventually nabbed the starting center fielder job from Jacoby Ellsbury. Injuries wore him down in the final couple of months of the year, but his final offensive line was still stellar. This season, Hicks has proven that last year was no aberration. With his strong performance now extended into 2018 while remaining healthy, there’s no question that Hicks has become another star on this roster.
To date this year, Hicks has accumulated approximately four WAR per Fangraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s version. Baseball Prospectus’s version only has Hicks at two, which is the outlier of the bunch. BP’s version views Hicks as a very bad defender this year, which doesn’t really pass the smell test considering Hicks’s reputation, past performance, and numbers elsewhere. It just so happens that since 2017, those two along with Charlie Blackmon are the only center fielders with more Fangraphs WAR than Hicks. Trout is obviously far and away the leader, at 14.9, but Hicks’s 7.4 is right on Blackmon’s tail (7.5) and not too far behind Cain (9.0). Per Baseball Reference’s version, Hicks is comfortably ahead of Blackmon (8.0 vs. 5.8) but still in back of Trout (14.9) and Cain (8.9).
Given Blackmon’s decline this season, it’s safe to say that Hicks is the third-best center fielder in baseball. In a world without an all-time great like Trout, Hicks might be in the top two. By season’s end, Hicks should end the year as a five-win player with more than 25 homers, a high on-base percentage, and his usual excellent defensive marks. Without a doubt, that makes him a star player. It’s incredible to see how far he’s come since his dud of a season in 2016.
Credit where credit’s due: first and foremost to Hicks for working to make the most of his ability, and two, to the Yankees front office for maintaining faith despite an ugly first year in the Bronx. Still just 28 and with another year before free agency, Hicks’s stardom will benefit the Yankees’ in playoff runs this season and next. It’ll also reward the center fielder with a very nice contract in free agency thereafter. It’s not easy to fill a premium position like the one Hicks plays, so when the winter of 2019 comes around, hopefully, the Steinbrenners open their checkbook.
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