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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. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      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.
      We've finally got most everyone on the same page, even Antony and Gardy, as they both now agree with their critics, that it's pretty clear that Hicks needs to go to AAA to learn and prepare how to play MLB better, particularly now as he's unilaterally announced that he's a right-hand only batter. The only thing currently stopping them from executing that plan is their own shortsightedness- leading to their extreme shorthandedness in CF.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Just an aside:

      many, many months ago I got a bit smacked around for claiming that switching to RH only would be a big, big learning issue . . . and now most seem to agree with that view.

      TD is funny sometimes.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Just an aside:

      many, many months ago I got a bit smacked around for claiming that switching to RH only would be a big, big learning issue . . . and now most seem to agree with that view.

      TD is funny sometimes.
      Let's round up the usual suspects.....
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Let's round up the usual suspects.....
      I don't mean to do that. I just think it is funny. And now I care little enough about the difference in production (potentially) that I find myself on the other side. And Hicks has been improving offensively over the past two weeks.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      He's going to have to figure it out at the major league level, and that would probably be his choice too. I'm sure he'd rather keep adding the service time while he makes the adjustment. If its bad for anybody, its the Twins, because right about the time he blossums as a player is when he'll be eligible for the big bucks. Very proud of him for scrapping the switch hitting. The kid is going to be fine.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      many, many months ago I got a bit smacked around for claiming that switching to RH only would be a big, big learning issue . . . and now most seem to agree with that view.
      You just described the main reason why I didn't want him to give up on switch-hitting at all. The learning curve is going to be enormous for Aaron in the next several months. Can he do it? I have no idea but it seems that he'd be best served by doing it in Rochester, not Target Field.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      You just described the main reason why I didn't want him to give up on switch-hitting at all. The learning curve is going to be enormous for Aaron in the next several months. Can he do it? I have no idea but it seems that he'd be best served by doing it in Rochester, not Target Field.
      I can't argue it would be easier to learn at AAA, but of course the Twins don't have many options. One would hope that he stands in the batters box for every righty's bullpen session, at a minimum. You can probably get decent semi-pro pitchers to come in every day for pennies and pitch to him to speed this up. But I am probably giving the Twins too much credit for thinking this through.

      On a side note, Hicks has taken a lot of flack on these boards for his defense, but had a great night last night robbing a 3 run HR and an absolute bullet to 2B preventing the runner from tagging (separate plays).
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      I can't argue it would be easier to learn at AAA, but of course the Twins don't have many options. One would hope that he stands in the batters box for every righty's bullpen session, at a minimum. You can probably get decent semi-pro pitchers to come in every day for pennies and pitch to him to speed this up. But I am probably giving the Twins too much credit for thinking this through.
      I agree that right now, the Twins really have no choice. Earlier in this thread, I believe I said something along the lines of "it's insane for Hicks to make this adjustment at the MLB level; he needs to be sent down the moment a replacement is available".

      Right now, there are no replacements available so I guess Hicks gets to do this at the MLB level, at least for awhile.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      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.
      Yay for ridiculous extremes.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tibs View Post
      Yay for ridiculous extremes.
      People are talking out of both sides of their mouth on this one. I honestly can't understand why anyone would suggest it's a good idea to have someone learn a totally new skill against competition already beating them routinely. It's an incredibly poor development idea. Not unlike if we were to just call up Stewart tomorrow with the idea that "he has to work it out against MLB hitting someday right?"

      You want to keep him up out of necessity by poor roster decisions? Ok, I guess. I'm not convinced of it, but I get it. You want him to fight through it because it'll help to be at the MLB level for this? That's certifiably crazy in my mind and people are making that argument. And they are using a whole host of small sample sizes to do it. This thread and the other are full of examples of it. If I argued his 0-2 last night was an example of a failed experiment it would only be mildly more invalid than saying "Look at the last 40 at bats!". Ditto the idea that one very nice catch last night invalidates the fact that he runs around out there like he's dodging drone attacks. (Credit: Labombo) Lots of subpar or struggling defenders make nice plays. With his athleticism I'd expect nothing less, but one spectacular play doesn't make up for the league lead in F8BC. (Figure 8s before making a catch)
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      theleviathan and Labombo with some great lines......don't agree with all the conclusions, but getting there was worth it totally
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      People are talking out of both sides of their mouth on this one. I honestly can't understand why anyone would suggest it's a good idea to have someone learn a totally new skill against competition already beating them routinely. It's an incredibly poor development idea. Not unlike if we were to just call up Stewart tomorrow with the idea that "he has to work it out against MLB hitting someday right?"

      You want to keep him up out of necessity by poor roster decisions? Ok, I guess. I'm not convinced of it, but I get it. You want him to fight through it because it'll help to be at the MLB level for this? That's certifiably crazy in my mind and people are making that argument. And they are using a whole host of small sample sizes to do it. This thread and the other are full of examples of it. If I argued his 0-2 last night was an example of a failed experiment it would only be mildly more invalid than saying "Look at the last 40 at bats!". Ditto the idea that one very nice catch last night invalidates the fact that he runs around out there like he's dodging drone attacks. (Credit: Labombo) Lots of subpar or struggling defenders make nice plays. With his athleticism I'd expect nothing less, but one spectacular play doesn't make up for the league lead in F8BC. (Figure 8s before making a catch)
      Yeah, I am in complete agreement with your entire post..... but in the interests of fairness to the much-recently-maligned Aaron Hicks, and in full disclosure...... let's be blatantly honest here, on a F8BC/150 ranking, our newly-discovered, former-budding-SS prospect and now back-up CFer, Danny Santana, is the league leader at the position, nonpareil.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      (Figure 8s before making a catch)
      I knew you'd bring up last night's catch and the horrible route he took on it before robbing the home run.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I knew you'd bring up last night's catch and the horrible route he took on it before robbing the home run.
      I know Levi was not commenting specifically on a figure 8 last night, but his route was flawless. Straight to the wall, if we want to nitpick he had to reach back about a foot. A great play.

      http://larrybrownsports.com/baseball...h-video/230737
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I knew you'd bring up last night's catch and the horrible route he took on it before robbing the home run.
      It wasn't "flawless" but it was a great catch. He still, as demonstrated on it, has trouble tracking the ball without watching it, but that was a very difficult grab that he made a nice catch on.

      But one good catch doesn't change all the other circular routes he's taken. It's just one great catch.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Yeah, I am in complete agreement with your entire post..... but in the interests of fairness to the much-recently-maligned Aaron Hicks, and in full disclosure...... let's be blatantly honest here, on a F8BC/150 ranking, our newly-discovered, former-budding-SS prospect and now back-up CFer, Danny Santana, is the league leader at the position, nonpareil.
      Not enough opportunities to qualify, but yeah...they play the position very similarly.
    1. Beezer07's Avatar
      Beezer07 -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      It wasn't "flawless" but it was a great catch. He still, as demonstrated on it, has trouble tracking the ball without watching it, but that was a very difficult grab that he made a nice catch on.

      But one good catch doesn't change all the other circular routes he's taken. It's just one great catch.
      He got back to the wall in time to time his jump perfectly and be able to reach the ball with his glove. What more are you looking for in a HR-robbing catch?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      One thing about circular routes: Sometimes he does them on purpose, so that he can get in a better throwing position. Last night he turned the way he did to get a better angle on the jump. As long as he's catching the ball, I'm fine with it.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      I went back and watched the replay... It was a great catch and he gets full credit for it.

      Aaron saved runs and the ball game with that catch. I loved it.

      He did misjudge it and was forced to reach back for it and I believe that Aaron hasn't displayed his full potential defensively yet... He does have work to do. But... I don't want to diminish the importance of that catch.

      It was huge and I tip my cap.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      One thing about circular routes: Sometimes he does them on purpose, so that he can get in a better throwing position. Last night he turned the way he did to get a better angle on the jump. As long as he's catching the ball, I'm fine with it.
      Um...he jumped the wrong angle....that's why he had to reach back to get it. He was a full foot (maybe more) too far to the left of the ball. He just has enough athleticism to make up for it.

      It was a spectacular catch any way you slice it, but that doesn't mean he didn't make it a bit harder on himself by getting lost on the flight path of the ball. That is not knocking the catch, that's just not overglorifying it either. It wasn't perfect, but he made it and that's what matters. It was a helluva catch.

      Also, you don't do figure 8's to set up for a throw. Start behind the ball or take an angle? Sure. Literally turn your body around? Ugh...no.
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