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  • Time For Hicks to Make a Switch?

    Since returning to the minor leagues after his demotion in early August, Aaron Hicks has batted .417. Well, from the right side anyway.

    Unfortunately, he's only had 12 at-bats from that side because in Triple-A, like in the majors, the vast majority of pitchers are right-handers. And righties force the switch-hitting center fielder to the opposite batter's box, where he has posted a miserable .287 OPS in Rochester. Yuck.

    Overall, between the majors and minors this year, Hicks has hit a respectable .239/.313/.451 as a righty and a dreadful .172/.240/.275 as a lefty. That's a difference of 250 points in OPS, and the stats are backed up by observational evidence. Hicks is natural right-handed hitter who took up switch-hitting in high school, and his swing is clearly far more smooth and strong from the right. Yet, the composition of pitchers in the league has him swinging from his far weaker side more than 75 percent of the time.

    This year has been such an utter disaster for Hicks that the Twins need to consider shaking things up to get him back on track. Eliminating his switch-hitting approach would be drastic and would essentially call for reinventing him as a hitter, but the need to do so is becoming increasingly apparent.

    Last year, at Double-A, Hicks acquitted himself quite well from the left side, hitting .287/.393/.434 for an .828 OPS that was nearly on par with his outstanding .881 mark from the right. But in previous years the outfielder has consistently struggled to inflict damage against right-handed pitchers, leading to his drop-off on prospect lists (Hicks went from being ranked the No. 19 prospect by Baseball America in 2010 to No. 72 this spring).

    In 2011, at Ft. Myers, Hicks batted .230 and slugged .356 from the left side, as opposed to .263 and .401 from the right. In 2010, at Beloit, he hit .248 and slugged .339 from the left while crushing to the tune of .362 and .664 from the right. His inability to hit with authority against righties certainly helps explain the slide in prospect status over the past three years, and was extremely evident during an ugly rookie season in the majors.

    Ostensibly, batting lefty against right-handed pitchers is beneficial for Hicks, providing him with a better look at incoming pitches. But his inferior swing from that side seemingly negates any gained advantages. It's really difficult to imagine him performing worse against righties while swinging out of the right-handed batter's box. How much worse can it get?

    The list of players who have given up switch-hitting this deep into their careers is rather short. The Orioles talked about doing it with 28-year-old former Twin Alexi Casilla earlier this season, but it never happened. Implementing such a dramatic change for a player who has been playing the game a certain way professionally for six years is an imposing proposition, and perhaps the adjustment would be too daunting for the Twins to even attempt, but it is frustrating seeing Hicks' offensive game so limited by being forced to take the vast majority of his at-bats from an unnatural and inferior stance.
    This article was originally published in blog: Time For Hicks to Make a Switch? started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 50 Comments
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      The reason he switched in HS was due to his father wanting him to be protected from getting hit in the head, which is far likelier to happen when batting RH vs RH. Hicks' father was hit this way and it was kind of a family decision. It may not be an easy sell.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I am in the minority here, clearly. Was his performance in AA in 2012 against righties just an aberration, then?
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Learning to hit right-handed pitching from the right side is going to be a major adjustment. Why on earth do we want Hicks going through a major adjustment in 2014? That's another guaranteed lost season for him, or at least half a season
      In my opinion, you're blowing the adjustment it would take way out of proportion. He'd instantly be better batting RH vs. righties than he is batting LH vs. righties now, I think.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      I am in the minority here, clearly. Was his performance in AA in 2012 against righties just an aberration, then?
      I'd hope not, but I think it's hard to conclude otherwise, looking at the last four years as a whole. Even in 2012 his Isolated Power was 100 points higher from the right side, so his strong numbers as a lefty were driven far more by plate discipline than authoritative hitting.

      Would his plate discipline elude him if he switched to seeing most pitches from a completely different perspective? I guess that's a strong possibility, and the most compelling argument against such a move. But from what I've seen, I don't know that Hicks -- swinging left-handed in the vast majority of his at-bats -- is an MLB-caliber hitter, especially in a corner spot. I see much, much more potential in his righty swing.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Anyone know what the average split gap is between righties vs. lefties and righties vs. righties? Wouldn't this be a baseline to see how far Hicks' numbers would fall from the right side?
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      If he hits like a pitcher, and throws like a pitcher........ maybe the rest of the teams were right...... he should be a pitcher. I was really rooting for him, though. After his progress last year, and the spring training run, I really thought he would do well. I guess you have to give him one more half season in AAA to see if he can become. He sure is a monster in the field. I really enjoy a center fielder that will dive forward for the ball - something Span would never do.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Anyone know what the average split gap is between righties vs. lefties and righties vs. righties? Wouldn't this be a baseline to see how far Hicks' numbers would fall from the right side?
      From what I've read the average hitter loses about .050-.065 points of OPS when facing same-side pitching.

      That should mean that in ideal world where Hicks is adapted to rightie-only, his .713 MLB OPS against lefties would probably put him somewhere around .660, or 100 points higher than his .559 LHB OPS.
    1. Jdosen's Avatar
      Jdosen -
      Is there a player anyone can think of that scrapped switch hitting this late in his career and went on to become a successful big-leaguer?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      He is only 24
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      He is only 24
      That doesn't answer the question. I am pretty curious about how common this is for anyone who has touched the majors or gotten even to AA.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by LaBombo View Post
      From what I've read the average hitter loses about .050-.065 points of OPS when facing same-side pitching.

      That should mean that in ideal world where Hicks is adapted to rightie-only, his .713 MLB OPS against lefties would probably put him somewhere around .660, or 100 points higher than his .559 LHB OPS.
      Thanks. And I do think that is pretty ideal, and wonder how long it would take him to get to that. If it is so damn easy to make this switch I imagine more players would have done it.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I think a better question is, if he doesn't scrap it, can he be successful? Who is going to walk him in the majors? No one is. And the umps (since they give people calls and don't) aren't going to help him. What, exactly, is the downside? An OPS the same as he has now?

      Shane, I was answering the post about "this late in his career".....

      And, I'd guess that guys that are this bad from one side were never successful in the majors, because they were so bad they never made the majors. So it is hard to give an example of someone who was......I am almost certain I read on Fangraphs in the spring that NO MLB player that started out this bad has ever turned out to be good.....that, to me, would imply they should make a dramatic change

      But, I don't expect it. It would be way too daring for this team.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      What was his OPS against righties from May onward?
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Oh come on, it's not that hard. Not like we're asking him to start throwing the ball left handed or swap his left and right shoes. Aaron Hicks has been swinging a stick at some kind of ball since he was a little kid. It'd probably take him a couple weeks to start whacking rightie curve balls and sliders again from the right side of the plate.

      Remember: The guy's an athlete. Not like us.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Oh come on, it's not that hard. Not like we're asking him to start throwing the ball left handed or swap his left and right shoes. Aaron Hicks has been swinging a stick at some kind of ball since he was a little kid. It'd probably take him a couple weeks to start whacking rightie curve balls and sliders again from the right side of the plate.

      Remember: The guy's an athlete. Not like us.
      If it isn't that hard, why don't more players do it when they struggle more from one side of the plate. I do think there is too much fuss about Hicks. April was terrible for him, but I wouldn't have expected much else from him than what he did the rest of the year, which is around .700 OPS. He was NEVER someone to do well right away after a promotion until he did it in 2012 in AA. Skipping a level altogether? Having the pressure of being the leadoff hitter right away (which demands plate discipline . . . a skill that he has, but is a different beast if you haven't SEEN MLB pitching!).
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      How many players have skipped AAA altogether and then been asked to be the leadoff hitter for the major league team to begin a season?
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Shane, I don't understand your argument. So far, I've pieced that you think he is too young to give up on that side, skipping a level has more influence then his ability for that side and there isn't enough evidence to support that the move would be worth it. Let me have a few points.

      1. Progress into his career is irrelevant. Think of this as eliminating a slider or adding a split-finger. Baseball players (and people in general) have to evolve and grow to become better players (or better people). So far in his career, he has been terrible hitting from that side. While, he has been good hitting from the other side. This isn't a new argument, I've advocated this move for 2 years and stated he will not be a legit MLB hitter from the left.

      2. Skipping a level, or for that matter just making a jump to the MLB, highlights weaknesses. Yes he starts out slow at other levels, but he was historically bad. You could bring up any of the Twins top 5 prospects and they wouldn't come close to how bad he was. There is really no way to slice it.

      3. Evidence? Like there are only 13.4% switch hitters in the MLB? Some guys can do it effectively, most can't. The drop-off for him specifically hitting RH pitching as a RH bat just really can't be worse than hitting LH. Its possible... but it would be pretty difficult.

      4. Twins are changing nothing in his approach, swing, style etc. All they would be doing is focusing on him hitting from the same side. Which might actually help him hitting lefties as well. Since 76.6% of MLB hitters do not switch hit, it tells me hitting from the same side is better for more people. He is one of them IMO.

      5. He is an employee of the Twins. If they want him to do it, he better listen. His dad having him switch hit in high school better have absolutely no factor in this decision. This is the real world, not little league. Come on!!!!

      Moderators be proud, I wanted to swear 50 times just now and didn't. Living up to my promise to Ashburry.
    1. markominne's Avatar
      markominne -
      "The list of players who have given up switch-hitting this deep into their careers is rather short." Not the same level of talent as Hicks, but I believe the Twins tried this back in the 90's with Rich Becker, with less-than-stellar results. With that said, hard to imagine that he couldn't equal or improve upon a .447 OPS batting right-handed exclusively, and it's equally difficult to believe that he will improve - and he would have to improve substantially - from the left side of the plate. Remember the definition of insanity?.... Perhaps he should head for winter league ball and try it there. It's hard to be concerned at this point about him messing with his left-handed swing...
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Badsmerf,

      1. After April, Hicks posted about a .700 OPS.
      2. It is true that Hicks only adapted quickly to a promotion when moving to AA.
      3. If he had started 2013 in AAA I would have been 50/50 on whether or not he would adapt that quickly again.
      4. Starting with the Twins, there is no way to *expect* a quick learn, especially from him given his minor league history.
      5. Thus, a .700 OPS for a full season is kind of a realistic expectation for Aaron Hicks' first year in the majors.
      6. I still want to see how many players have (we'll say in the last ten years) skipped AAA and been put into the leadoff position for the major league club to start a season. And if there are such players, I wonder how well they did and how long it was before they headed to AAA.
      7. I remember one player, Alex Gordon, who skipped AAA and was put around 6th in the Royal lineup in 2007 (I think). He was pretty bad and he was the number 2 prospect in all of baseball going into that year.
      8. Batting leadoff has certain expectations about recognizing pitches and having good discipline. Hicks hadn't seen real MLB pitching. Hence, look at that April.
      9. A guy who has taken time with each promotion jumps a level and then starts in the leadoff position and fails badly. Is that a surprise?
      10. Hicks hit well from the left side in 2012. It is not a forgone conclusion that he can't do it effectively.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Badsmerf,

      Also, 10 > 5. So there's that.
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