In a previous article on this site, I wrote some scouting reports on a couple of Twins outfield prospects, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia. Hicks controversially made the team out of Spring Training, while Arcia has just gotten called up to the Majors, playing his first game on Monday. Hicks start and coming in late as a defensive replacement and working a walk. Before then, Hicks actually set the record for strikeouts in the first ten games of his career.
The odds system I designed over the off-season actually liked Hicks better than Arcia, but he has really struggled early on in his MLB career. So I wanted to get a deeper look at Hicks’ struggles early on this year, and since it is much too small of a sample size to look at statistics, I thought Pitch F/X may at least give us a look and help inform us as to why he is struggling.
Out of the 188 pitches he has seen in the regular season, the average pitch is 89.07 MPH. This means that he is seeing a lot of hard pitches and fastballs. Hicks has seen 26 pitches over 95 MPH and has swung and missed at 4 of them, which is a 15.4 whiff percentage. He has only put one in play, but even though it was an out, it was a line drive. This isn’t a big sample size or anything, but he isn’t doing real well against the top end fastballs, even struggling a little more than you would expect.
Hicks has seen just 15 pitches under 80 MPH. So it isn’t like pitchers are just throwing a bunch of junk up there and he is chasing. They are really challenging him with fastballs. This would really concern me if I were the Twins. If he was just chasing a bunch of breaking balls and having problems recognizing pitches, that might actually be a little more encouraging, as it might just say that he isn’t quite ready and was just brought up too early (though it may point to great plate discipline problems). However, if he is getting a bunch of fastballs and not hitting them, then it makes you wonder if he is really a big league hitter. However, the average pitch he has swing and missed at is 85.98 MPH, while the average pitch he has made contact with is 90.19 MPH. This does give you hope that he is hitting the fastball, as the harder than average pitch has been hit by Hicks.
Strangely, in trying to get an idea of what kind of pitches he is seeing, his overall pitch type movement is very low horizontally and very high vertically. A Juan Nicasio who throws a couple MPH harder would be a decent comp as to the average pitcher he is facing Pitch F/X wise.
Here is his whiff chart, showing where the balls he is swinging and missing at are located:
He actually isn’t missing many high pitches, that is, high fastballs, it is low pitches and pitches right down the plate he is really missing.
It may be helpful to look at who he is struggling against, by release points.
First, here are the release points of the pitchers he has made contact against
Here are the ones he has whiffed against:
A switch hitter, he has a similar number of contact versus whiffs on both sides really, not showing a significantly better side so far (in the minors, he was slightly better as a righty). Fortunately for him, he has gotten to face several pitchers with far out release points, and since he always has the platoon advantage, it should make it easy for him to see the ball from those pitchers. However, if the above graphs are any indication, he has not taken advantage of this, really struggling against them, especially from the right side.
In the at-bats we looked at (all his MLB at-bats except Monday’s game), Hicks has been in 57 two strike counts. Predictably, pitchers have taken a little off in those counts, but not as much as you would think, still averaging 88.04 MPH. Hicks has swung and missed at 12 of those pitches. Those pitches averaged 85.02 MPH. So even without looking at pitch classifications, we see than Hicks is really struggling when pitchers take some velocity off the ball. The spin on the two strike pitches had an average degrees of 100.3, while the 2 strike pitches he didn’t miss is 157.51. This means that he is really having problems with the breaking balls like sliders and curveballs that don’t have as much spin.
So in review, Hicks has seen a ton of fastballs, and especially with the upper tier fastballs, hasn’t done a lot with them. He has also really struggled with the breaking balls that opposing pitchers have fed him. While it can be tough to judge the predictive nature of the data, we see what the problems are. It is tough to imagine that he will be able to make these kind of drastic adjustments on the fly in the big leagues. We have seen Hicks have success in the minors, and he passed the eye test down there, so there is no reason to give up on him two weeks into his big league career, but whether or not he is able to make the adjustments necessary will determine his future as a big league hitter.