New York, New York

It pains me to write this article. For basically my entire existence, I have abhorred all things Yankee. I loathe pinstripes, despise any mention of Aaron Boone, recoil from memories of 1998-2000, and essentially do my best to fight the good fight against the New York Yankees. I kid (mostly) though it is true that I have never wished them well. Yet despite my predilection for seeing nothing good in the Evil Empire, I have on occasion pushed past my foundational beliefs in this regard.

Hard-nosed, professional players like Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, and Bernie Williams were difficult to despise totally. The postseason heroics of Orlando Hernandez (9-3, 2.55 ERA in 106 IP) and Hideki Matsui (.312/.391/.541 with 10 HR), while supremely annoying, garnered my respect, as did watching the usually unhittable (though not in this instance) Mariano Rivera work. It seems once again something vaguely decent in New York has me punching out less than hostile words: their outfield, specifically Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks.

Aaron Judge

If you fell asleep at the All-Star Break last season, you may have wandered into your restful dreams expecting Judge to post his second straight 50+ home run season. ‘All Rise’ certainly looked like he was heading there going into the DC exhibition, posting strong numbers (.276/.392/.544 with 25 HR) before seeing his season derailed by a broken wrist on July 26. Judge saw action in only 13 more games the rest of the way, limping to a .220/.333/.341 slash line in those final outings.

Despite a rough end to the season, Judge’s first-half performance bodes well for his future value, provided his wrist is sound. After leading MLB in HR/FB% in 2017 (35.6%), Judge experienced an expected dip in 2018…all the way down to 29% (which would have ranked 3rd highest in MLB if he had enough PA’s to qualify), 30.5% if you do not consider his last 13 games. He blistered opposing pitching, barreling 16.2% of pitches (Top 2% of MLB) and ranked in the Top 1% of the league with both his average exit velocity (94.7 MPH) and Hard Hit% (54.1%).

His expected stats were solid (.273 XBA/.391 XWOBA/.521 XSLG), though his XWOBA (Top 2%) and XSLG (Top 6%) slipped from their lofty 2017 rankings (Top 1% of MLB). I hope that you can catch the sarcasm there. Overall, there isn’t much within Judge’s performance to worry about. His GB% did jump a good bit (+6.8%), mostly at the expense of his FB%, though he also hit more line drives as compared to 2017 (+1.4% LD%). Judge continued to strike out at a high, yet consistent rate (30.5% K% in 2018, 30.7% K% in 2017), countering that with a 15.3% BB% (6th best in MLB if it qualified).

Unless his wrist gives him trouble this season, I see no reason why you shouldn’t draft Judge at his current ADP (18.42). I think he outperforms most outfielders in that range and would be comfortable taking him as the 3rd or 4th OF off the board (behind Trout, Mookie and maybe JDM). For those of you still worried about his wrist, check out this shot from 2 days ago:

Aaron Hicks

I highlighted Hicks in my offseason stock watch and will continue to raise awareness for ‘the other Aaron’ as an underrated outfield option. Hicks is currently the 36th outfielder coming off the board in most drafts (119.82 ADP) and is a steal at that position. Need proof? I refer you back to a chart I included in my November article:

Name HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG
C. Blackmon 29 119 70 12 8.50 19.30 .211 .291 .358 .502
M. Conforto 28 78 82 3 13.20 24.90 .204 .243 .350 .448
A. Hicks 27 90 79 11 15.50 19.10 .219 .248 .366 .467
M. Haniger 26 90 93 8 10.20 21.70 .208 .285 .366 .493
R. Acuña Jr. 26 78 64 16 9.20 25.30 .259 .293 .366 .552
C. Bellinger 25 84 76 14 10.90 23.90 .210 .260 .343 .470

Every one of those outfielders is going to cost you more than Hicks in your redraft leagues despite posting similar numbers to Hicks in 2018. Here are their current draft positions, for comparison: Acuña Jr. (8.08), Blackmon (26.16), Bellinger (45.69), Haniger (87.92), and Conforto (107.58). Obviously, I am not advocating for you to eschew a guy like Acuña Jr. for Hicks based on his 2018 numbers. This past season represents the one time Hicks has been able to stay healthy or produce over a full season, so he is not a lock to continue that in 2019.

However, I am saying that you may be better off going with Hicks rather than reaching for most of the other OF in this chart, and potentially others like George Springer, despite the risks attached to the late-blooming CF. Apart from Acuña Jr., Charlie Blackmon may have the best chance of out-performing Hicks in 2019. Despite his age (32), Coors Field covers a lot and Blackmon has been remarkably steady over the past three seasons. While he may not be worth his current ADP, I can understand taking him over a more risky Hicks.

Bellinger and Springer are more interesting cases though. Since posting an outstanding 30.1% HR/FB% over the first half of 2017, Bellinger has not come anywhere close to that mark (19.4% second half 2017; 15.2% in 2018), muddying the waters a bit in relation to his future power potential. Springer has seen a three-year drop in his Barrel% (10.5%, 9.3%, 8.9%) and hasn’t been a factor on the bases since swiping 16 in 2015. Obviously, both of these players have past performances to lean on that Hicks does not, but enough questions remain to consider if their production is worth taking them 50-70 slots above Hicks.

Haniger’s park environment (27th in Runs Factor and 15th in HR Factor) is less desirable than that of Hicks (6th in both factors) and he will play in a lineup lacking the ammunition seen in the Bronx. Conforto has all of the tools to make his ADP look silly, but needs to gain consistency in order to do so. Again, while the comparisons from 2018 are interesting, they are not the only bit of data you should consider as you weigh which player to select or keep in your respective leagues.

2018 could end up being a high point for Hicks and he may not approach that production in 2019. However, I see enough to bet on the late-blooming outfielder given his various improvements last year. That Yankee lineup is formidable (2nd in Runs and 1st in HR in 2018) and Hicks could be in line for an excellent year, especially if he ends up leading off for the Bronx Bombers in 2019.

 

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Hunter Denson

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Fantasy baseball enthusiast, Boston Red Sox fan and general lover of baseball living in the Pacific Northwest. More likely to remember Mel Ott's career HR number than my pin number. Married to an amazing woman who supports and encourages my baseball mania.

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