Friday, May 3, 2013

Eighth or leadoff

Aaron Hicks has
two extra-base hits
so far this season.
Aaron Hicks enters tonight's game in Cleveland with nine hits in 75 official at-bats, a .120 batting average. He has drawn 11 walks (while striking out 27 times), which is tied for 30th in the American League but still leaves him with an on-base percentage of .230.

But as bad as those numbers are, they beat the devil out of where the rookie center fielder was after April 13, the last game in the leadoff slot. At that point Hicks had a slash line of .047/.109/.047, and there are few pitchers who hit that poorly. (The average pitcher hits about .130 these days.)

Ten games ago, Ron Gardenhire flip-flopped Hicks and Brian Dozier in the batting order. Hicks dropped to the eighth slot, Dozier to the leadoff slot.

In the 10 games since he was dropped to the bottom of the order, Hicks' slash line is .214/.361/.250 -- still  poor batting average, still little power, but a fine on-base percentage. He has in that period six hits, seven walks and one hit-by-pitch and has reached base at least once each game. He also has more walks than strikeouts.

Brian Dozier is
hitting .227/.277./.293
for the season.
Better, but hardly ideal. The improved walk/strikeout rate is a reed to cling to, but the batting average and slugging percentage remain well south of acceptable. Hicks may be turning the corner on his rough start, but he hasn't completed the turnaround.

Dozier has also improved since the switch. In 10 games as the No. 8 hitter, Dozier hit .152/.237/.212. In 10 games as the leadoff man, he's at .286/.311/.357 -- which isn't going to get him on any All-Star teams, but is good enough to stick with the current program.

I fully expect that if and when Hicks starts contributing more at the plate than a few walks, he'll return to the leadoff job. I saw establishing Hicks as the center fielder and leadoff hitter as one of the Twins primary goals this season, and I don't think Dozier is the leadoff man of the future.

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