New York Yankees Aaron Judge went the way of WWE Superstar AJ Styles in 2017 and had a season that was, in a word, phenomenal.
The big right fielder took the game by storm with his sweet swing and large 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame. He had 30 home runs by the All-Star Break and was invited to take part in the Home Run Derby, which he won by smacking 47 total home runs. Judge then experienced something of a second-half slump but rebounded at the end to finish the year with a slash line of .284/.422/.627. Judge also led the American League with 52 home runs and had 114 RBI, thus making himself the odds-on favorite to be named AL Rookie of the Year and, possibly, MVP.
And in spite of that great regular season, Judge’s performance in the postseason shows just how far he has to go as a player before he can be lumped in with the all-time greats.
An October to forget
Judge’s postseason career got off to a hot start in the AL Wild Card Game against the Minnesota Twins, when he went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run in New York’s 8-4 victory. For a hot second, it looked as though his hot streak to close out the regular season would carry over into the playoffs.
The exact opposite has happened instead. Judge is batting a lowly .100 across the ALDS and has struck out 21 times. The high strikeout total isn’t entirely a surprise, particularly since Judge had 208 in the regular season and set a record by striking out at least once in 37 consecutive games. Whether this was due to a run-of-the-mill slump or a rumored shoulder injury is debatable, but the fact remains that Judge has a tendency to strike out. He’s in the playoffs now and has to focus on just getting on base as opposed to getting the crowd on its feet with a tape measure home run.
Shades of A-Rod
Judge’s predicament is actually similar to that of former Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who notoriously struggled in the postseason following multiple MVP campaigns. For example, A-Rod hit .321 with 48 home runs and 130 RBI en route to being named AL MVP in 2005 but hit just .133 in the postseason that year. He rebounded a few years later in the Yankees’ championship season of 2009 in batting .365 with six home runs and 18 RBI in the playoffs but was back to square one in the following years.
Rodriguez would hit just .151 in the postseason for the rest of his career and though he hit an average .259 in October as a whole, he is not famously remembered as a clutch playoff performer.
Though the base hits Judge has recorded in the playoffs have been significant, they mean little in the bigger picture. The Yankees need him to be hitting the ball to all fields as opposed to just trying to pull it hard to left, and his struggles at the plate clarify that he is trying way too hard to put runs on the board early and often.
And to say Judge is doomed to struggle in the playoffs throughout his career is both premature and unfair. 2017 marked his first full season in the majors and the 155 games in which he appeared were a career high. On the minor league level, where seasons run shorter, the most amount of games in which he appeared occurred in 2014. It was his first professional season, and he played in 131 games between standard and High-A ball.
This probably means that on top of various aches and pains that could affect any player during the season, Judge is probably exhausted.
That said, though nothing should be taken away from the excellent regular season Judge had and should be rewarded for, his performance in the playoffs shows just how much more he has to learn as a player, not to mention how much he has to prove in the now.
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