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  • It's All Right: Hicks Gives Up Switch-Hitting

    The first two years of Aaron Hicks' major-league career have been humbling to say the least. He's gone from first-round prep superstar and top prospect to apparent bust; from appointed center fielder and leadoff man to "unprepared" problem child.

    The skills that have carried Hicks to this point aren't keeping him afloat. But to his credit, the 24-year-old has proven willing to look inward, and is now implementing a drastic change.

    Hicks announced on Monday that he is giving up switch-hitting, and will bat exclusively from the right side going forward.

    Whether going by the eye test or the numbers, it has been obvious for some time that the switch-hitting approach just wasn't working out for Hicks. Ostensibly hitting from both sides is intended to produce a double platoon advantage for a hitter, but Hicks performed worse from the left side than you'd expect from any lefty-against-lefty, or righty-against-righty, or major-leaguer-against-anyone.

    In 331 plate appearances as a left-handed hitter, Hicks batted .179/.261/.285.

    In light of those numbers, it's no surprise that the center fielder told his manager he has "no confidence" in the lefty swing that he adopted at a young age.

    Will this help? It can't hurt. Hicks' problems run deeper than switch-hitting -- his numbers against lefties as a righty aren't that great either -- but he'll now be taking 100 percent of his swings from his natural side. He'll need to adapt to a different look in the majority of his at-bats, and even Ron Gardenhire admitted that this process would ideally play out in the minors, but at least when Hicks makes contact he'll have a better chance of doing something with it.

    This is a rare step for a major-league player to take. Shane Victorino gave up switch-hitting at age 32 last year, initially because of an injury, but outside of that the list of examples of players implementing such a change has been exceedingly short.

    A study on the subject conducted by James Gentile of Beyond the Boxscore in 2012 reached the following conclusion:

    For the most part, the practice of switch-hitting and then un-switch-hitting seems reserved for quad-A lifers, glove-only types, fringe utility-players, or general disappointments of one kind or another that were willing to try anything to keep their careers alive. It's a desperate act, perhaps, reserved only for when your back is against the wall. Consider that Bruce Ruffin made the list and he wasn't even a position player. He simply spent 11 years in the National League as a pitcher.
    Well, that sounds extremely discouraging, particularly when you consider that Hicks is only 24 years old and in his second big-league season.

    But the numbers have been bad enough -- and disparate enough from what you'd expect out of his talent -- that desperation is warranted. Hicks needs to be a more confident player. Taking his admittedly inferior swing into 75 percent of his at-bats is not a disadvantage he needed added to his plate.

    What do you think? Can eliminating the left-handed swing help Hicks straighten out his offensive game? And should the Twins allow him to reinvent himself in the majors or search elsewhere for an interim replacement?
    Comments 68 Comments
    1. kblack1011's Avatar
      kblack1011 -
      The Twins really need to get a centerfielder so Hick can straigten his hitting in the minors. I'm not sold on him as a player, but they are going to ruin any chance he has of becoming a player. If they keep him up here, he may eventually figure out how to hit, but it's going to be with another team like Carlos Gomez.
    1. Beezer07's Avatar
      Beezer07 -
      I'm too lazy to look it up...but did Gomez "figure it out" in the majors or at AAA?
    1. kblack1011's Avatar
      kblack1011 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beezer07 View Post
      I'm too lazy to look it up...but did Gomez "figure it out" in the majors or at AAA?
      In the major, but he went from a average player (excellent fielder) to an All Star. Hicks is a sub .200 hitter and not a very good outfielder, and trying to give up switch hitting.

      The problem is that everyone got frustrated with Gomez, so giving up and shipping him out was easy. Hicks is going down the Joe Benson path and he may never figure it out like Benson, but if you believe in Hicks, he would be better off learning at AAA.
    1. Beezer07's Avatar
      Beezer07 -
      Quote Originally Posted by kblack1011 View Post
      In the major, but he went from a average player (excellent fielder) to an All Star. Hicks is a sub .200 hitter and not a very good outfielder, and trying to give up switch hitting.

      The problem is that everyone got frustrated with Gomez, so giving up and shipping him out was easy. Hicks is going down the Joe Benson path and he may never figure it out like Benson, but if you believe in Hicks, he would be better off learning at AAA.
      Well I believe in Hicks, and I don't think he'd be better off learning at AAA.
    1. Dave T's Avatar
      Dave T -
      Hicks would benefit from batting right-against-righty in a development setting, i.e. AAA. On the other hand, Hicks has taken a positive step on his own initiative, which is a sign of maturity. It's an interesting situation. The fact that he got two hits yesterday against right-handers shows that he's on to something. What Hicks needs now is, a little less yelling and screaming. I don't think Scroggins did him any favors by pissing all over his decision to abandon batting lefty.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by kblack1011 View Post
      In the major, but he went from a average player (excellent fielder) to an All Star. Hicks is a sub .200 hitter and not a very good outfielder, and trying to give up switch hitting.

      The problem is that everyone got frustrated with Gomez, so giving up and shipping him out was easy. Hicks is going down the Joe Benson path and he may never figure it out like Benson, but if you believe in Hicks, he would be better off learning at AAA.
      Granted he came up much younger, but Gomez didn't really "figure it out" at the plate until year 5 or 6. His OPS bounced between .640-.670 for 4-5 years. Alex Pressley, who we discarded had a career OPS of .714 prior to this year and he is regarded as a 4th OF.
    1. Ozziedavisfan's Avatar
      Ozziedavisfan -
      i think it make sence he he hits .286 as a rhb vs. 145 as a lhb. my only ? is why he didn't do it sooner, and i sort of know the answer to it.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Maybe I'm more optimistic than some because I abandoned switch hitting and I found it much easier. In particular, I had an easier time recognizing the breaking ball out of the hand of a right hander as a right handed hitter. I also took away the back-door breaking ball from right handers. That is one of Hick's weaknesses as a left-handed hitter.

      He was always looking for that pitch middle in. If he didn't get it, he often struck out looking. So right handers stayed away from him and threw a lot of back-door breaking balls. He tended to give up on that pitch as a left handed hitter, and it would get called on him.

      The one major leaguer who did this recently was successful at it. And he was older than Hicks. Are there examples of players who did worse after making this change?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ozziedavisfan View Post
      i think it make sence he he hits .286 as a rhb vs. 145 as a lhb. my only ? is why he didn't do it sooner, and i sort of know the answer to it.
      I think it was his father. Now he's his own man, he can make his own decisions.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Maybe I'm more optimistic than some because I abandoned switch hitting and I found it much easier.
      Did you abandon it against the likes of Justin Verlander when you re-learned? With a constant spotlight on you and open confidence issues?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Did you abandon it against the likes of Justin Verlander when you re-learned? With a constant spotlight on you and open confidence issues?
      No. But he can't do much worse than he's done against Verlander as a left-handed hitter. Against the Tigers, Hicks sports a .098/.196/.171 tripple slash with 20 Ks in 46 plate appearances. I believe 12 of those Ks have come against Verlander. When I think of his weakness against the back-door breaking ball, I remember all his Ks against Verlander, beginning with the very first one. They don't throw breaking balls like that in the minors.

      Then again, Victorino led the lead in HBP last year. So Hicks better get some armor on.
    1. golfboy1's Avatar
      golfboy1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by kblack1011 View Post
      In the major, but he went from a average player (excellent fielder) to an All Star. Hicks is a sub .200 hitter and not a very good outfielder, and trying to give up switch hitting.

      The problem is that everyone got frustrated with Gomez, so giving up and shipping him out was easy. Hicks is going down the Joe Benson path and he may never figure it out like Benson, but if you believe in Hicks, he would be better off learning at AAA.
      They also managed to acquire a very good SS in trade for Gomez. Right now, they would have trouble getting anyone of value for Hicks.

      I really, really hope he turns into a productive ML player but right now he is far from that & his best chance to reach that level is in a minor league setting.

      Is there any another team in the ML that Hicks would be a starting CF for right now? I can't imagine any team would prefer him as their starting CF vs. gaining experience in the minors.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Granted he came up much younger, but Gomez didn't really "figure it out" at the plate until year 5 or 6. His OPS bounced between .640-.670 for 4-5 years. Alex Pressley, who we discarded had a career OPS of .714 prior to this year and he is regarded as a 4th OF.
      That's a good point about Presley, but if you're using Gomez as a comp for Hicks, there's one thing to be concerned about. Gomez would go through stretches where he would practically run into the stands to swing at a pitch outside the zone, but even so he never struggled anywhere near the way Hicks has with making solid contact. His ground ball rate was roughly 15% lower than Hicks' so far.

      Hicks is already one of the most patient and passive hitters in MLB. Gomez was one of the most aggressive. If it's a choice between betting on the hacker learning patience in their latter 20's or the passive guy learning to drive the ball, my money is on the hacker more often than not.

      Also, it remains to be seen whether Hicks can sustain his excellent walk rate with the switch to RHB, and with a below-average line drive rate and ISO of just .063.

      That being said, with the switch to not switching sides, I'm more optimistic about Hicks now than at any point since the end of his excellent 2012 AA campaign.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Did you abandon it against the likes of Justin Verlander when you re-learned? With a constant spotlight on you and open confidence issues?
      The rest of his quote " . In particular, I had an easier time recognizing the breaking ball out of the hand of a right hander as a right handed hitter. I also took away the back-door breaking ball from right handers. That is one of Hick's weaknesses as a left-handed hitter. " is valid regardless of level and pressures. I always though he looked particularly weak from the left side against curve balls breaking into him. Fact is he is 2 for 4 against right handers. How long did it take him to get his 1st two hits last year and how long before he got a multi hit game. Concentrating on one swing should only help him.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      The rest of his quote " . In particular, I had an easier time recognizing the breaking ball out of the hand of a right hander as a right handed hitter. I also took away the back-door breaking ball from right handers. That is one of Hick's weaknesses as a left-handed hitter. " is valid regardless of level and pressures. I always though he looked particularly weak from the left side against curve balls breaking into him. Fact is he is 2 for 4 against right handers. How long did it take him to get his 1st two hits last year and how long before he got a multi hit game. Concentrating on one swing should only help him.
      That's all fine in theory...but he's barely been a .200 hitter and isn't making strong contact from either side of the plate. If he was a .280 hitter from the right side who drove the ball, ok, I could see the optimism.

      But we're literally suggesting that a guy who has had his rear-end handed to him for about a full season now is magically going to turn things around by doing something at the plate he hasn't done since he was a preteen.

      Lauding this as worthy of giving a shot is just baffling to me.
    1. Beezer07's Avatar
      Beezer07 -
      But we're literally suggesting that a guy who has had his rear-end handed to him for about a full season now
      This is the exact reason why all this "Hicks isn't gonna make it" nonsense is nonsense. The guy hasn't even had a full season's worth of PAs, and people are already giving up on him completely, pining for the days of Clete Thomas and D. Mastro. Seems silly to me to give up on what was supposed to be a prospect, after less than a season. Especially when the team is as bad as it is.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beezer07 View Post
      This is the exact reason why all this "Hicks isn't gonna make it" nonsense is nonsense. The guy hasn't even had a full season's worth of PAs, and people are already giving up on him completely, pining for the days of Clete Thomas and D. Mastro. Seems silly to me to give up on what was supposed to be a prospect, after less than a season. Especially when the team is as bad as it is.
      And this meme is old too. I've seen very few people "give up on him". I've seen the vast majority of people say "Time to go to AAA for a bit".

      These are not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      And this meme is old too. I've seen very few people "give up on him". I've seen the vast majority of people say "Time to go to AAA for a bit".

      These are not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.
      Is there one Twins fan in the entire world pining for the days of Clete Thomas?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      It isn't clear:

      A: that Hicks is going to learn how to play MLB better at AAA and,

      B: that there really is a legitimate replacement in CF that will lead to winning more games right now for the Twins.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      It isn't clear:

      A: that Hicks is going to learn how to play MLB better at AAA and,

      B: that there really is a legitimate replacement in CF that will lead to winning more games right now for the Twins.
      Would you like to call up Kohl Stewart and let him learn at the major league level?

      I would imagine your answer is no. Answer A with the same logic.
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