Hicks’ whiffs and breaking tradition

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Strikeouts: all the cool kids are doing it

Let me preface this post by saying that Brandon Hicks has played infinitely better than anyone could have hoped for. The 28-year-old infielder has, by nearly any metric, been an asset to the Giants. Hicks has done a fine job of filling the Scutaro Void - he's played a solid second base (plus-2.4 defensive runs via FanGraphs) and his hitting, while below league average, hasn't been the disaster that many, including myself, expected. Hicks' power (.171 ISO) and defense combo have been enough to net the Giants 0.7 wins by FanGraphs' WAR.

As a stopgap, you really couldn't ask for more.

Still, Hicks' player-type - lots of strikeouts - is unusual for the Giants.

First, let's take a look at some numbers.

Rank

Whiffs

Player

1.

164

George Springer

2.

162

Junior Lake

3.

158

Brandon Hicks

4.

158

Ryan Howard

5.

158

B.J. Upton

6.

156

Chris Carter

7.

155

Marlon Byrd

8.

153

Justin Upton

9.

152

Marcell Ozuna

10.

148

Mark Reynolds

(Numbers are from the lovely Baseball Savant.)

Hicks' problems making contact have been well documented. Hicks ranks third in the majors in swinging and missing.  He's whiffed 158 times this year. He's flanked by guys with major contact issues like George Springer, Junior Lake, Ryan Howard, B.J. Upton, and Chris Carter. Mark Reynolds - career 32.3 strikeout percentage - even makes a special appearance at #10.  Hicks has a strikeout rate of 31.8 percent in 2014.

Hicks' penchant for swinging and missing brought me to my original thought: the Giants rarely employ these types of players -- since 2000, the Giants rank 5th in baseball in strikeout percentage at 16.5 percent. Only the Cardinals (16.5), Orioles (16.3), Angels (16.0), and Royals (16.0) strike out less. Ask any fan of the Giants about what the front office has valued in past years and they'll tell you that batting average and contact skills reign supreme. Brian Sabean has famously stated that he prefers guys that put the ball in play.

Since 2000, the Giants have only had one other player - with a minimum of 200 plate appearances - that struck out in more than 30 percent of their plate appearances; that player was Pat Burrell in 2011 and he struck out 30.6 percent of the time. That was Burrell's last year in the majors and although he was hampered by a foot injury, he had a productive season (119 wRC+).

So, Hicks' season is interesting for a couple of reasons: He's playing better than anyone really could have expected and as a Giant, he really doesn't fit the mold of what the front office tends to prefer. Though, as they often say, necessity is the mother of invention, or maybe desperation would better fit the phrase.

I'm not sure how good he'll be long-term, or even going forward for the remainder of the season, but that's for another day. The good two-plus months Hicks gave the Giants count; they don't have to give his production back. Hicks has been a nice find and a good stopgap player.

(The team should still try to Utley Utley Utley.)

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