New York Yankees: The good and ugly with Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge struck out eight times in a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on Monday. This is the ugly that comes with all the good.
It seems as if Aaron Judge can do nothing wrong.
It’s a combination of many things. He possesses already the reputation for prestigious power to all fields. His ability to patrol right field, coupled with a cannon of a right arm that uncorks throws at 100 mph with ease, is often the most overlooked aspect of his skillset. But what’s often the most celebrated feature of him is his character; within his speech and conduct, there is a ten-year veteran, a natural-born leader who has only played a year’s worth of games and then some. He’s approachable and respectful, someone who thinks before he speaks.
But this isn’t about all the things Aaron Judge is good at. This is about the other side of the coin, one that features far too many strikeouts that often counteract the highest of highs with the lowest of lows. Such lows occurred on Monday in a doubleheader split with the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, where Judge struck out eight times in nine at-bats.
The strikeouts will come in plenty, a natural curse for someone of Judge’s 6’7″, 272lbs frame. His strike zone, therefore, will be naturally larger. His swing is longer than most, which means the importance of every separate moving part being in unison is all the greater. If there’s one tiny part that’s out of place, then the whole thing is affected.
But this is the ugly that comes with all the good. Aaron Judge is the player you’d want to go to war with, as long as he’s on your side. He’s a team player and a leader, and he’s more than capable to weather the occasional storm that comes his way.
Slumps are part of the game. They are the baseball gods’ way of humbling even the most talented of players.
In a place like New York, and with a player like Judge, the slump is magnified tenfold for the scrutiny of every fan, writer, and so-called baseball guru in the entire country. The numbers speak for themselves: in the past 30 games, he’s hitting .239 (27-113) with nine home runs and 23 RBI while striking out 44 times. That’s a 39% strikeout rate.
That’s not to say Judge has become a liability at the top of the order. What makes him so unique is his keen eye of the strike zone; his ability to recognize the difference between a ball and a strike has stapled him at the top of the leaderboard in walks and on-base percentage league-wide. A .239 batting average in that span of 30 games is accompanied by a .358 on-base percentage on the strength of 20 walks.
There is a disadvantage for Judge when he’s in the batter’s box. According to FanGraphs, Judge has seen the most amount of pitches out of the strike zone that have been called for strikes, all the while cutting down his chase rate. The league average of borderline pitches being called for strikes sits at 22.8%. For Judge? Bump that number up to 44.3%, giving the pitcher a larger zone to work with and thus the greater advantage.
Despite all of this, he’s still hitting .277 with 16 home runs. It’s a far cry from the absolute tear he had a year before, and ESPN has him projected to strike out 240 times this year, where MLB.com projects him to finish with 213. While projected stats in baseball are often influenced by different variables, if we were to focus on the negative, then the positive must also be considered.
And the positives are this: Judge is still projected to finish with 40 home runs and over 100 RBI, runs, and walks. His calling card is creating run-scoring opportunities; he may never contend for a batting title, but that’s okay. He doesn’t need to.
Yes, it’s hard to watch someone as likable as Judge to struggle as he is now. But it’s part of his game. With big swings come big misses, and for someone his size he will also have to deal with a larger strike zone than players like Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve.
To ask him to be the player they are is unfair. Aaron Judge is uniquely Aaron Judge, and that includes the negatives and the positives.
And if he isn’t panicking, then why are you?