The Yankees have a monster problem brewing in centerfield

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks
May 2, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks (31) walks towards the dugout during batting practice against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday afternoon, theNew York Yankees dropped a disappointing game against the Baltimore Orioles. Despite a comeback in the 9th inning, Anthony Santander launched a three-run walk-off homer to finish the game.

The Yankees left much to be desired on offense, struggling to hit with runners in scoring position.

While the loss dampens an otherwise explosive May, they’ve shown resiliency time and time again when trailing. The team as a whole has performed well, but there have been individual players who have struggled considerably to start the season. One of the most significant liabilities over 38 games is centerfielder Aaron Hicks.

Hicks has struggled considerably in May:

Hicks started off the season in good form, hitting .306 with 15 hits and 10 walks in April. This month, though, he’s hitting just .091 with four hits and 15 strikeouts over 44 at-bats.

The issue with Hicks is that the Yankees are on the hook for three more seasons after he signed a seven-year, $70 million contract in 2019. The Yankees have a 2026 club option, but in the meantime, they owe him $10 million per season. This is problematic given his injury history and inconsistent offense.

Diving into his advanced metrics, Hicks has recorded just one barrel hit this season, good for 1.4%. His exit velocity has dropped to 87.6 from 89.3 last year. Essentially, he’s not hitting the ball well, and his 17.4% walk rate is the only thing keeping him in a lineup.

Interestingly, pitchers have entirely changed their approach when handling Hicks in the batter’s box. They have reduced the number of fastballs thrown his way by nearly 8%, incorporating more breaking pitches.

Hicks hosts a 35.8% whiff rate on breaking balls and just a 14.9% whiff rate against fastballs. He’s hitting .256 with fastballs and .167 on breaking balls. Essentially, teams have figured out how to approach the Yankees’ centerfielder and have dismantled his plate approach.

Hicks ranks in the 2nd percentile in barrel percentage, 27th percentile in average exit velocity, and 9th percentile in hard-hit percentage. While he ranks in the 90th percentile with his walk rate, his chase rate is also in the 95th percentile, indicating he’s attacking pitches outside the strike zone.

The Yankees need more from Aaron Hicks and they need it now:

If he continues to play at this level, the Yankees will have no choice but to make a dramatic change in centerfield. He’s essentially been an automatic out in the month of May, despite the team’s unbelievable success. One option they can call upon is Triple-A outfielder Estevan Florial.

Florial is hitting .266 this season over 124 plate appearances. He’s posted four HRs and 11 RBIs, paired with a 12.1% walk rate and 29% strikeout right. His 35.5% on-base percentage stands out, though, meaning he’s making good contact but also walking at a decent clip.

If the Yankees aren’t going to utilize Florial, who’s turning 25 years old this year, they’re better off trading him to a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for outfielder Bryan Reynolds, who struggle to open the 2022 season. Reynolds is hitting just .214 with four HRs this year, but he’s coming off a season where he hit .302 and 24 HRs over 159 games.

General manager Brian Cashman has a myriad of avenues he can travel down to solve centerfield, but one thing is for sure, he can’t continue to rely on Aaron Hicks as an everyday player.

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