The Detroit Tigers have gotten a huge offensive boost from John Hicks since he replaced Miguel Cabrera. When Miggy returns, Hicks needs to stay in the lineup.
After a slow start to the season, the Detroit Tigers’ offense has picked up. A big part of that resurgence has been Detroit’s power-hitting first baseman. That sentence is almost always followed by talk of Miguel Cabrera, but thanks to an injury Detroit is currently running with catcher John Hicks over at first – and it’s going very well.
A six-game hit streak has raised Hicks’ average from .179 to .283. Over the last week he’s gone 10-for-25 with two doubles, a home run, four RBI and two walks. His season slash is now a very respectable .283/.333/.528.
Cabrera is on track to return right around when he is first eligible, on May 14. With Cabrera at first, Victor Martinez at DH and James McCann behind the plate, Hicks sure looks like the odd man out for a starting role.
The Case for John Hicks at first base
The way Hicks is stinging the ball right now, he needs to be in the lineup on a regular basis. Obviously, he will not push Miggy to the bench. If the Tigers wanted to put out their optimal lineup, a reshuffling would need to occur.
Victor Martinez has almost the exact same slash line this year as he did last year: .255/.325/.368. He has two home runs and 16 RBI. He’s increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate, all while improving his hard hit rate and his fly ball rate. By all accounts, positive results for Martinez should be coming soon.
Martinez has one major flaw however: he can’t hit left-handed pitching. As a switch-hitter, Martinez is slashing .277/.347/.410 against righties compared to a horrendous .174/.240/.217 against lefties. His hard hit rate is 44.7% from the left side and just 25% from the right side. Martinez’s hitting skills are declining much more rapidly as a right-handed hitter.
The sample size is too small to get any meaningful data from, but Hicks has earned the right to start against left-handed pitching. He could start at first base with Cabrera sliding over to DH and Martinez riding the pine.
Hicks behind the plate
After a slow start, James McCann has come around offensively. He has a .275/.315/.402 slash line with three home runs, 13 RBI and a 93 wRC+. McCann mashes left-handers, with a .381 average and a 215 wRC+ on the year.
Still, McCann needs his breaks, and Hicks should continue to steal a start or so a week while he takes a breather. Ideally, manager Ron Gardenhire would start both McCann and Hicks against left-handed pitching, with Hicks occasionally spelling McCann against a right-hander. This would give Hicks 3-4 starts per week, with Victor Martinez riding the pine more often.
The Detroit Tigers can maximize their lineup output by starting John Hicks over Victor Martinez against left-handed pitching. This also allows Miguel Cabrera to be the designated hitter more often, which is always a good thing for an aging slugger.
Hopefully, manager Ron Gardenhire will see the benefit of playing Hicks against left-handers going forward.