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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. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      IMO Hicks and Parmelee are exhibits A and B in why you value raw hitting ability over "polish" in a spec.

      Look at the Mariners - they built a roster out of top 100 specs who put up gawdy walk inflated OPSes in the minors. But Smoak, Saunders, Franklin, and Ackley are struggling just like Hicks and parmelee did.

      The only guys keeping that lineup afloat are Morales, Ibanez and Seager - the one guy who *hit* in the minors (and was left off the top 100 lists).
    1. hansob's Avatar
      hansob -
      Quote Originally Posted by jareddejong42 View Post
      Has anybody seen what Shane Victorino has done over the past couple weeks since a hamstring injury relegated him to give up switch hitting? Of course this is a small sample size, but could be considered hope that a change for Hicks could be a good thing.
      No kidding. Victorino has always been a right-handed hitter who was switch hitting. It can't be THAT difficult to change to just hitting from the right side. Jason Varitek reacted to suggestions that he give up switch hitting like someone asked him to hit cross handed. I think, especially for hitters whose strong side is right-handed, that they are more afraid of getting pegged as a platoon player, and their perceived value would go down as a result. I remember thinking the same thing for Bobby Kielty.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Everyone keeps saying how big a change this is, but he's already swinging well right handed. A lot of people are making it out as if it's harder than teaching a same side hitter TO switch hit. The pitcher is the only thing that's really changing. Hicks knows how to hit right handed and it will help him. He'll just have to make the adjustments to the pitcher, not himself.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Badsmerf,

      Also, 10 > 5
      >> Jeff Gray
    1. MichiganTwins's Avatar
      MichiganTwins -
      He just hit a double left handed btw.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      haha, Michigan Twins!!!!

      Anyway, if ending one's switch-hitting were so easy, more players would do it. They don't do it. So . . .
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Thank you Shane Wahl for taking the right position and saving me making a bunch of posts. Despite Aaron Hick's relatively tender age, he has been switch hitting his entire professional career. He has a pattern of hitting better right handed, but I believe the die is cast. I suspect part of his relative success vs. left handers is that lefties tend to throw fast balls and changeups to right handers. Hicks has demonstrated "trouble with the curve" and probably has faced less of them vs. lefties. If Hicks were to try to hit exclusively RH, I think the best he could hope for is platoon play and platoon play for a RH hitter means that basically he would be a bench player. Probably the #1 component in hitting success is confidence. If Hicks went all RH all the time at the insistence of the club, would he be a more confident hitter? I doubt it.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      stringer, we will see what happens with Hicks... but at this point a platoon player might be all he is anyway. He doesn't have much time until elite talent starts trickling up the system.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      A couple things. The "if ending switch hitting were easy, more players would do it" argument is entirely specious. There's nothing driving most switch hitters to drop hitting from one side. Nobody's asking Ryan Doumit to cut it out, for example, because he's a major league caliber hitter. Aaron Hicks showed that this year he wasn't. The only reason we are talking about it at all with regard to Hicks is because of how badly he sucked. To my knowledge there were exactly zero switch hitters in the big leagues this year with comparable problems, meaning you're actually comparing Hicks to nobody else and expecting draw a useful conclusion from an illusory comparison.

      Secondly, how difficult would it be to try it out in winter ball? Just do it for a few weeks or a month and see what happens. There's no way to know how he'd respond without just doing it, and in winter ball there's really nothing to lose.

      Finally, whether he drops the switch hitting or not, I think Hicks has enough talent to eventually grow into a good major leaguer. He's not there now, and that's fine. Some people take longer. But I think he'll get there.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      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?
      Didn't you already deem 2012 an aberration in your "2nd year at a level" argument?
      Is 2012 only an aberration when it fits your argument, and not the opposing argument?
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