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After years of struggles at the plate early in their careers, Eddie Rosario and Aaron Hicks both figured something out in 2017, which they were able to transfer to 2018.

Rosario hit .288/.323/.479 last year with 24 home runs, 77 RBI, eight steals, and 87 runs scored. Meanwhile, Hicks hit .248/.366/.467 with 27 home runs, 79 RBI, 11 steals, and 90 runs scored. Despite a slight edge in every stat except batting average (and slugging), you can get Hicks 119th overall on average while Rosario is typically gone by pick 86. Does this mean Hicks is actually the better value on draft day?

Before we dig into the details, keep in mind that we already have player comparisons on a pair of power-hitting first basemen and an unlikely duo of catchers for you to peruse when you're done here.

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Projections

The three projection systems currently on FanGraphs foresee much of the same in 2019 from each of these players, with a significant BA edge and slight RBI edge for Rosario, with nearly identical runs scored, HR and SB. The better overall asset, however, is projected to be Hicks.

STEAMER

PA BA Runs HR RBI SB wRC+
Rosario 624 .277 80 25 87 9 109
Hicks 592 .248 80 22 70 10 113

THE BAT

PA BA Runs HR RBI SB wRC+
Rosario 635 .276 83 26 82 10 112
Hicks 634 .254 89 26 77 10 121

ATC

PA BA Runs HR RBI SB wRC+
Rosario 623 .282 87 27 82 9 116
Hicks 599 .255 87 26 78 12 124

Given Hicks' advantages in park and lineup, if he gets equal playing time to Rosario, he should have a slight advantage in the major counting stats. And the Yankees' disinterest in Bryce Harper should have eliminated playing time concerns for Hicks in 2019.

As you can see, batting average is Rosario's main calling card. His biggest advantage over Hicks in 2018--in fact, Rosario's only advantage in standard leagues--came in the form of 40 batting average points. However, expected stats may tell a different story.

 

xStats

Not only were their expected batting averages (xBA) by Statcast much closer, Hicks had the higher one. Rosario's xBA of .241 was actually well below Hicks' mark of .260. Only Willy Adames, Scooter Gennett, Charlie Culberson, and Mallex Smith outperformed their xBA by more than Rosario's 47-point differential last season.

As you might expect from xBA, xSLG doesn't tell a great story for Rosario either. Rosario "should have" slugged only .420 in 2018, compared to .457 for Hicks. By this measure, Hicks slugged 10 points higher than expected, but that pales in comparison to Rosario's 59-point difference. However, while only four players had a larger gap in xBA than Rosario, 37 players had a higher xSLG.

You might expect a large BABIP for someone who outdoes his xBA with such regularity, but Rosario's career mark is .322. It's above average, but not close to the mid-.350s that BABIP maestros Mike Trout or Paul Goldschmidt have put up in their careers. Hicks, meanwhile, only has a .270 career BABIP despite good speed. In 2018 alone, Rosario managed a .316 BABIP compared to just .264 for Hicks. Usually, you would look at fly balls to explain such a disparity, but Rosario had a 44.1 FB% and 11.5 IFFB% in 2018 compared to Hicks' 38.4% and 12.0% (Fangraphs).

Some good news for Rosario is that he has outperformed his xBA by at least 25 points every year of his career. On the other hand, Hicks has no consistent history in either direction. This might lead to the expectation that Rosario will continue to do so in 2019 while Hicks could bring his average closer to his xBA.

Here's the deal, however: there is nothing obvious in Rosario's profile to explain his historical ability to outdo Statcast's impression of his bat. He's fast but certainly not the fastest, nor does he put up huge ground-ball and line-drive rates. If you think he can put another .280-ish batting average in the bank, you may end up disappointed.

 

Plate Discipline

On top of Rosario's risky batted-ball profile, Hicks simply has a better approach at the plate. In the top lines, you see Hicks with a 15.5% walk rate and 19.1% strikeout rate in 2018 compared to Rosario's 5.1% and 17.6% figures. Each produced similar marks in 2017. Beyond that, Hicks also chases way fewer pitches off the plate, 20.9% of them last year compared to 42.9% for Rosario. Only four hitters swung at more pitches out of the zone than Rosario did in 2018. Hicks also swings at fewer pitches in the zone, but that gap is much smaller, 65.5% compared to 78.5%.

As long as Rosario remains a free swinger while Hicks is able to take his walks, the former's floor remains much lower.

 

Conclusion

Rosario's edge over Hicks is built on a precarious foundation: a single statistic which has appearances of being built on a house of cards that could crumble any season. Outside of that, these two players are fairly even, but Hicks' plate discipline makes him the better hitter, even before considering park and lineup effects. If these players were being drafted around the same spot, you'd want Rosario in standard, batting average leagues, but since you can pass on Rosario and pick up Hicks a couple of rounds later, waiting a bit and ending up with the better hitter is a strong option. (And if you happen not to use BA, ignore the NFBC ADP and place a higher value on Aaron Hicks.)

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