• Hicks Shaping Up As Bruno Success Story?

    On April 13th at Target Field, Aaron Hicks went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, dropping his batting average to .047. It was the seventh time in 10 major-league games that he'd notched multiple strikeouts, and in total the rookie had whiffed in a whopping 43 percent of his plate appearances.

    With the season two weeks old, even Hicks' most staunch supporters were facing the reality that his struggles amounted to more than a mere slump. He was overwhelmed and his issues at the plate were compounding rather than clearing.

    At this point the Twins had begun feeling pressure to make a move of some kind ("I'll let you know when we do that," Ron Gardenhire told an inquiring reporter, "so you don't have to ask every day anymore"), and surely they were weighing their options. Ultimately, they decided to stick with Hicks, albeit while sliding him down in the batting order, and it sounds like the decision was heavily influenced by another ambitious rookie -- first-year hitting coach Tom Brunansky.

    When Gardenhire told Pioneer Press reporter Mike Berardino of the decision to keep Hicks around, Berardino inferred that "Brunansky lobbied hard to keep working with [Hicks]." Said Gardenhire: "Talking with Brunansky, his feeling is he wants to work with this kid. He believes he can get him right. I'm with Tom."

    That's pretty bold for Bruno, who's still in his first few weeks on the job as a major-league hitting coach. Hicks appeared totally lost in the woods, which is not necessarily shocking for a 23-year-old straight out of Double-A, prompting many to believe he should spend some time in Rochester.

    Of course, Brunansky knows a little bit about fast rises. In his playing career, he rocketed through the minors and was an effective full-time big-leaguer by the age of 21. His coaching career has followed a similarly steep ascent; he rejoined the Twins organization as a rookie-league hitting instructor in 2010, and has climbed from there to Double-A to Triple-A to the majors within a span of three years.

    Perhaps, through that experience, Brunansky can offer some perspective to the discombobulated Hicks. Whatever they're doing right now, it seems to be helping. In four games since the three-strikeout performance against the Mets, the center fielder has drawn six walks, and he hadn't struck out until fanning on a full count in his fourth trip on Sunday. There's been a visible and dramatic improvement in his previously broken plate approach, and if he can keep it up, his slump-busting RBI single will only be the start of a full-fledged turnaround.

    Presently he's still hitting .059, but Hicks is seeing the ball better, working into favorable counts and heading to the box with more confidence. If sustained, those trends will lead to a rapid rise in his batting average. With a little help, he seems to be finding his way.
    This article was originally published in blog: Hicks Shaping Up As Bruno Success Story? started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 84 Comments
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      From a hitting standpoint, walks are a really good thing. The whole focus of "moneyball" is the enhanced importance of getting on base. From a pitching standpoint, I think walks can be tolerated if they are exchanged for fewer hits and more strikeouts. The Twins, for many years, have been composed of low walk, low strikeouts starting rotations, with less than wonderful results. Other teams have tolerated more free passes in exchange for weak contact and missing bats. Back to the offensive side of the ledger, Minnesota is sixth (IIRC) in OBP because they are getting the second most walks per plate appearance and they are in the middle for run scoring despite being dead last in homers, and twelfth in OPS.
    1. twinsfan214's Avatar
      twinsfan214 -
      I agree the walks are nice but he's just taking too many pitches and not knowing what to go for and getting lucky (it seems). However, I like that I'm seeing fewer swings and misses and more fly/ground outs. Yes, they're still outs but he's getting his bat on the ball a bit more often. To me, this will lead to more hits. I wonder though, did it seem like the last couple of pitchers were pitching him a bit differently? When he would get two strikes I would say "ok here comes the junk pitch which he will swing at and miss", but it didn't really happen with Peavy and Floyd.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Would seem that approach has not been working very well over the past week since he's been getting on base at like a .500 clip, no?
      I don't understand devaluing the walk. It means much more than just avoiding an out (which, in itself, is incredibly valuable). It shows the ability to lay off bad pitches. It wears down the opposing pitcher. It shows a consistent approach to ABs. It shows that the player has a goal and is going to make the pitcher work to get him out.

      Over 75 PAs, I'll take the young guy who is hitting .100 with a 15% walk rate every time over the young guy with a .400 BABIP and a 3% walk rate. One of those guys is going to start trending upward and the other is inevitably going to trend downward.

      Hicks is starting to show meaningful improvements. It hasn't shown up in the stat line but if he continues down this path, he WILL be a productive major league hitter sooner rather than later.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      I was thinking the same thing. I watched both games this weekend and saw him come back from 0-2 and 1-2 counts to draw walks I was like dang. It's a very small sample size but he didn't look scared at the plate like he did in some of the games even a week ago.

      My thoughts since bringing him up and he struggled those first couple games was well, you gotta give him at least six weeks and see if he can turn it around. Hopefully this week was a sign of things to come from him and he can start getting the barrel on the ball to go along with these walks.
    1. SpiritofVodkaDave's Avatar
      SpiritofVodkaDave -
      Haters gonna hate, if Hicks wants to be a long term leadoff man we definitely want him taking as many walks as possible, with his speed those walks often times will result with him on 2nd base, or if they don't steal could score on any double.

      His walk rate and low strike out rate is a sign that he is getting more confident at the plate, the hits will start coming, they always do.

      The cool thing is, if he is able to bounce back this season and turn it around then he will have the confidence in the future should he ever experience a slump again as well.

      People forget that Hunter in his "rookie year" had a .217 BA and a sub .600 OPS through his first almost 200 at bats, the Twins ideally will show Hicks the same patience and it will pay off down the road.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by RodneyKline View Post
      His walks are not an encouraging thing. He is afraid up there at the plate and that is resulting in some walks. He does not seem to have a plan besides trying not to fail. I hope I am wrong but this is not a slump. It is a complete lack of confidence. They think they are helping him but the longer they do this to him, the harder it will be to get his confidence back in the minors. I think he could use going back to AA and see more fastballs until he wants to hit every one that is thrown. Right now even a fastball down the pipe does not look appetizing to him.
      I don't see it that way. From where I sit, he got away from the guy he's been his whole career and was lost up there. How did this happen? It started right away, when he had five called third strikes in the first series on pitches he probably never had called on him. These pitches are not really hittable with his swing (being several inches off the plate), but he started swinging at them and either missing them or making easy outs. In the three-strikeout game that Nick mentions, he was expanding the strike zone all over the place.

      So he took the night off (the last game Mastro played) and spent extra time in the cage with Bruno instead, to get back to the hitter he had been last year and in spring training. So far so good. Even his outs have been well stroked. And he's taking his walks. Hopefully it translates into more success.

      One thing that is really odd about all his walks (he's second on the team in walks) is, normally when a guy is below the Mendoza line, pitchers don't bother to waste pitches on him. For example, when Butera was forced into everyday duty, pitchers just said "here it is, hit it" and he did, flying out at a prodigious rate. So why didn't they challenge Hicks more? Because advanced scouts noticed how he was swinging at balls out of the zone, so the pitchers kept throwing him those pitches. Now that he's taking them (and the umps aren't calling them anymore), pitchers will need to challenge him more. And he should have better pitches to hit.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Still skeptical. Walks are great, more a sign that pitchers can't throw strikes than anything he did. He hasn't even made good contact for a long time. I don't get why pitchers aren't just pounding the zone and making him beat them with a hit. I still have serious doubts about his ability to put the bat on the ball. Maybe a more patient approach will help... or he'll just get behind in counts and see ****ty pitches to hit.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I don't understand devaluing the walk. It means much more than just avoiding an out (which, in itself, is incredibly valuable). It shows the ability to lay off bad pitches. It wears down the opposing pitcher. It shows a consistent approach to ABs. It shows that the player has a goal and is going to make the pitcher work to get him out.
      On the one hand, I understand what people are saying when they suggest that the increased walks are a sign Hicks is being overly passive at the plate, which isn't exactly a change from his first couple weeks when he would stand in there and just watch pitches go by with little interest in finding one to drive.

      On the other hand, the fact that he's walking at such a high rate indicates that the pitches he's laying off of aren't in the strike zone. It's not like he's sitting up there with the bat on his shoulder watching strike three repeatedly. He's taking what pitchers are giving him and getting on base. He's showing much better recognition and laying off borderline pitches with two strikes. That's a very meaningful development.

      Right now pitchers are throwing enough balls that he's able to coax walks, but that's going to change. Given his sub-.100 batting average, pitchers are going to start attacking. Will he be able to take advantage and start mounting some legitimate numbers? If he continues with his current approach, absolutely. The guy had a top 5 OPS in the Eastern League last year, it's not like he can't hit.
    1. TwinsFanInPhilly's Avatar
      TwinsFanInPhilly -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I don't see it that way. From where I sit, he got away from the guy he's been his whole career and was lost up there. How did this happen? It started right away, when he had five called third strikes in the first series on pitches he probably never had called on him. These pitches are not really hittable with his swing (being several inches off the plate), but he started swinging at them and either missing them or making easy outs. In the three-strikeout game that Nick mentions, he was expanding the strike zone all over the place.

      So he took the night off (the last game Mastro played) and spent extra time in the cage with Bruno instead, to get back to the hitter he had been last year and in spring training. So far so good. Even his outs have been well stroked. And he's taking his walks. Hopefully it translates into more success.

      One thing that is really odd about all his walks (he's second on the team in walks) is, normally when a guy is below the Mendoza line, pitchers don't bother to waste pitches on him. For example, when Butera was forced into everyday duty, pitchers just said "here it is, hit it" and he did, flying out at a prodigious rate. So why didn't they challenge Hicks more? Because advanced scouts noticed how he was swinging at balls out of the zone, so the pitchers kept throwing him those pitches. Now that he's taking them (and the umps aren't calling them anymore), pitchers will need to challenge him more. And he should have better pitches to hit.
      I think cmathewson's explanation is the more likely one. Good post.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      I think his plate discipline has definitely improved, but it hasn't translated into success - yet. The next few weeks will be interesting. Now that he's not hacking at stuff in the dirt, pitchers will start changing there approach. We'll see if Hicks is able to adjust to their adjustments.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      The PAs over the past 4 games have a little something for everyone: for those seeking encouragement, he definitely has shown flashes of the plate discipline that was always a strength throughout his minor league career. For those convinced he needs to go back to the minor leagues, there has been precious little solid contact when he does swing. My take: there's not enough information yet to believe in either case. As I said week 1, let's reassess around June 1, and see where he's at.
    1. Pius Jefferson's Avatar
      Pius Jefferson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      Still skeptical. Walks are great, more a sign that pitchers can't throw strikes than anything he did. He hasn't even made good contact for a long time. I don't get why pitchers aren't just pounding the zone and making him beat them with a hit. I still have serious doubts about his ability to put the bat on the ball. Maybe a more patient approach will help... or he'll just get behind in counts and see ****ty pitches to hit.

      Taking pitches can help in the long run. That's assuming he's capable of hitting major league pitching. Agreed with your first point, it looks like the pitchers can't throw strikes.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      The PAs over the past 4 games have a little something for everyone: for those seeking encouragement, he definitely has shown flashes of the plate discipline that was always a strength throughout his minor league career. For those convinced he needs to go back to the minor leagues, there has been precious little solid contact when he does swing. My take: there's not enough information yet to believe in either case. As I said week 1, let's reassess around June 1, and see where he's at.
      June 1? I think unless he shows real improvement in the next 2 weeks (when Mastro should be coming back), and I'm talking actually making solid contact and hitting let's say close to .200, then he should be sent back to AAA.

      It's all well and good to think this is a lost season where there isn't a chance but right now we're 1 game back. Until we are truly out of contention we should be playing to win and starting a player who is hitting .059 is not going to get us to the playoffs. If the Twins fall from contention there will be plenty of time for Hicks to come up and show that his beginning to the season wasn't representative of his real performance levels.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      June 1? I think unless he shows real improvement in the next 2 weeks (when Mastro should be coming back), and I'm talking actually making solid contact and hitting let's say close to .200, then he should be sent back to AAA.
      While I think this article is a bit premature and never thought we should have moved Hicks up, for him to be hitting close to .200 by the end of two weeks, he would need to hit around .500. I'd settle for him putting up decent numbers (like he put up in AA) to keep the experiment going.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I don't understand devaluing the walk. It means much more than just avoiding an out (which, in itself, is incredibly valuable). It shows the ability to lay off bad pitches. It wears down the opposing pitcher. It shows a consistent approach to ABs. It shows that the player has a goal and is going to make the pitcher work to get him out.

      Over 75 PAs, I'll take the young guy who is hitting .100 with a 15% walk rate every time over the young guy with a .400 BABIP and a 3% walk rate. One of those guys is going to start trending upward and the other is inevitably going to trend downward.

      Hicks is starting to show meaningful improvements. It hasn't shown up in the stat line but if he continues down this path, he WILL be a productive major league hitter sooner rather than later.
      All of that may be true, and we've seen at least SOME evidence that Hicks can swing a confident bat in the minors.

      But "taking a lot walks" is not, in and of itself, a useful or reliable skill. That Aaron Hicks has been walked 9 times in 60 plate appearances is better than if he were just flailing away up there. But it's also an extremely small sample size, and it results from the fact that this guy is terrified to swing the bat. Occasionally, pitchers will have control issues and walk guys they don't want to walk. You see pitchers get walked in the NL once in awhile. But by and large, if they aren't afraid of you as a hitter, MLB pitchers will get after you.

      Simply put, there is no way you can dress up Hicks' performance thus far as anything as a complete disaster. He has 9 walks, but only 3 hits. If he were swinging enough to have more hits, he would have even more than the 21 strikeouts he has (which is a pace of about 205 per season, for a LEADOFF hitter).

      His batter's eye does look pretty good. But the walks don't excite me at all because being selective at the plate and working deep into counts is only useful if you have a good contact rate also. The "gestalt" of his "selective" approach is still a .259 OPS. Still early, but just saying...
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      I was watching some kids swing bats in the cages at Nevers/Larkin in Eden Prairie a couple days ago, and I saw something familiar. One of the kids couldn't seem to reach the ball with his bat, even though he was stepping in and turning his shoulders pretty well. What he was doing wrong was in his hips.

      People talk about "keep your weight back," but sometimes they forget to mention that you still have to shift your body forward into the swing. The difference between the two is kinetic. The weight-back observation is really referring to the posture you try to maintain through the swing, which is to stay centered over a strong base in your legs. However, at the same time you must generate power off the back foot, which requires driving forward off that foot, then turning your hips.

      Problem in the hip turn arise if the center of rotation of your hips shifts to the wrong place. As you move your lower body forward, you must ensure that the center of rotation of your hips is over your front leg. If the center of rotation drifts to your middle (belly button) or your rear hip, then something awkward happens. The rotation looks okay, but your torso moves away from the plate. This is what I call "doing the French Mistake," a reference to an hilarious dance number in Blazing Saddles. If it looks like you're pushing your butt away from the plate, then all the energy of your swing goes away, and you also lose the ability to reach any pitch from the middle of the plate outwards.

      In a healthy, powerful swing, the rear hip comes through after the bat whips around. In fact, your rear foot may actually come forward to the inside of the plate, even with your front foot. Just like a throw. After all, you're supposed to throw the end of the bat at the ball. Anyway, Aaron Hicks has been doing a bit of a French Mistake on his swing. He's keeping his weight back, but he's not shifting his mass forward, and he's not really following through with the rear half of his body.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Um..."the last week" has been all of three games for the kid. I'm a bit disturbed that people are ignoring sample size. It was right to cite sample size when he was struggling but to ignore it after a few games of a better approach is a tad silly. Look, I'm optimistic on Hicks but there is a lot of talk in this thread that seems inconsistent in perspective.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      I was watching some kids swing bats in the cages at Nevers/Larkin in Eden Prairie a couple days ago, and I saw something familiar. One of the kids couldn't seem to reach the ball with his bat, even though he was stepping in and turning his shoulders pretty well. What he was doing wrong was in his hips.

      People talk about "keep your weight back," but sometimes they forget to mention that you still have to shift your body forward into the swing. The difference between the two is kinetic. The weight-back observation is really referring to the posture you try to maintain through the swing, which is to stay centered over a strong base in your legs. However, at the same time you must generate power off the back foot, which requires driving forward off that foot, then turning your hips.

      Problem in the hip turn arise if the center of rotation of your hips shifts to the wrong place. As you move your lower body forward, you must ensure that the center of rotation of your hips is over your front leg. If the center of rotation drifts to your middle (belly button) or your rear hip, then something awkward happens. The rotation looks okay, but your torso moves away from the plate. This is what I call "doing the French Mistake," a reference to an hilarious dance number in Blazing Saddles. If it looks like you're pushing your butt away from the plate, then all the energy of your swing goes away, and you also lose the ability to reach any pitch from the middle of the plate outwards.

      In a healthy, powerful swing, the rear hip comes through after the bat whips around. In fact, your rear foot may actually come forward to the inside of the plate, even with your front foot. Just like a throw. After all, you're supposed to throw the end of the bat at the ball. Anyway, Aaron Hicks has been doing a bit of a French Mistake on his swing. He's keeping his weight back, but he's not shifting his mass forward, and he's not really following through with the rear half of his body.
      I'm seeing a difference between left side and right side. Do you see it with Hicks as well?

      From the right side his swing looks fairly smooth and together. From the left side I see him falling back instead of shifting his weight. His plate coverage and power seems effected by this.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Um..."the last week" has been all of three games for the kid. I'm a bit disturbed that people are ignoring sample size. It was right to cite sample size when he was struggling but to ignore it after a few games of a better approach is a tad silly. Look, I'm optimistic on Hicks but there is a lot of talk in this thread that seems inconsistent in perspective.
      This....Axes can't grind themselves...
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post
      I'm seeing a difference between left side and right side. Do you see it with Hicks as well?

      From the right side his swing looks fairly smooth and together. From the left side I see him falling back instead of shifting his weight. His plate coverage and power seems effected by this.
      I'm tempted to ask: What plate coverage? and What power? seems affected?

      He has 3 singles RH and O LH. He has struck out 18 times in 48 PAs RH (37.5%) and has struck out 3 times in 12 PAs LH (25%).
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