Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Aaron Hicks is Good; Terry Ryan, JR Murphy Are Not

It should come as no surprise that former Minnesota Twins executive Terry Ryan had a rough few final years with the organization. Long praised for his scouting acumen, the team ignored the monumental advancements in technology, video analysis and even fairly simple advanced stats in favor of their scouts opinions. This "old-school" approach led the team to make mistake after mistake in player evaluations, which is why the team limped to the league's worst record last season and has struggled badly for years now.

The organization's final significant trade under Terry Ryan came last off-season, when the Minnesota Twins sent outfielder Aaron Hicks to the New York Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy in a trade that was widely considered a swap of two mediocre players.

In November of 2014, a full off-season before Hicks was traded, here at TBTBB we took a look at Hicks' early career in comparison to both Torii Hunter and Kirby Puckett. We had suggested that it was far too early to give up on Aaron Hicks, and that the team should spend the 2015 season with Hicks in center field full-time, because most players need around 1,000 plate appearances before they start to break out. He posted a .721 OPS in 97 games in 2015, which still left room for improvement but was a huge upgrade from his prior numbers.

After the trade, Hicks 2016 season wasn't great, as he regressed offensively and appeared destined to be a platoon type outfielder with great defense. But even with him hitting just .217/.281/.336, he out-produced John Ryan Murphy by a large amount. Murphy hit just .146/.193/.220 in 26 games for the Twins, and remains a triple A level catcher at this juncture.

This season, Aaron Hicks is hitting an outstanding .321/.432/.577 in 44 games for the Yankees, while Murphy was unable to beat out catcher/64 MPH long reliever Chris Gimenez as Jason Castro's platoon partner behind the plate.

What's frustrating about this kind of deal isn't necessarily the final result, because sometimes players develop or decline in ways nobody could predict. It's frustrating because even a quick glance at a few useful stats would've shown that Hicks had a chance to breakout, as we mentioned in our piece in 2014, and that outside of a solid 100-at-bat performance in 2015, John Ryan Murphy had never shown any kind of potential with his bat in the high minors or the big leagues.

Hicks is unlikely to be as productive all season as he has been up to this point, as his impressive slash line is being aided by an unsustainable .346 BABIP. His career average is .275, so a slight regression should be coming in the near future. However, Hicks remains a very good defender as well, which makes him extremely valuable. If he somehow continues to hit this way all season, he's an MVP candidate, which sounds ridiculous but it's a fact.

If he finishes with an OPS around .800 instead of 1.000, he's still going to rate as one of the league's better all around outfielders, and will likely be 2 or 3 wins better at a minimum than current Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario.

Watching Terry Ryan garner universal praise inside baseball year after year while it was obvious he was ten steps behind the smarter teams was depressing, and we should all be thankful the team struggled so badly last season that they finally decided to move into the 21st century by firing their long time executive. It's great to see Hicks doing so well after we defended his potential for years, it's just a shame we have to watch him excel for the Yankees.


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