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What in the world has happened to Aaron Judge?

Judge

Aaron Judge has hit a wall since coming off the All-Star break. His slash line before the break was an impressive .329/.448/.691. That line was a big compliment to his 30 home runs and 66 RBIs in that span.

Since the break, his line reads as an underwhelming .182/.349/.358 along with eight home runs and 19 RBIs. The most alarming stat out of all of this though is his MLB leading 181 strikeouts on the season, 72 of them coming since the break.

The streak

Judge
Judge leads the majors in strikeouts this season (SB Nation)

Usually when talking about in a streak in baseball, it has a positive connotation. For example, the Oakland Athletics had a 20-game winning streak in 2002. Joe DiMaggio also had one of the most famous streaks ever, hitting in 56 consecutive games which is believed to be unbeatable.

Aaron Judge has a streak of his own that has given him some notoriety this season. He broke Adam Dunn’s record with 37 consecutive games with a strikeout this season. Now that isn’t the sole reason for his struggles. Judge had been big on strikeouts all season long, so it was not a surprise when they started to catch up to him.

One of the problems that Judge has been facing during these struggles is his BABIP. This stat can be used to measure how lucky or unlucky a hitter can be. It stands for batting average on balls in play, and it excludes home runs. This helps people who evaluate a player’s performance determine whether or not they find holes in the defense or maybe defenders pull off great plays against him.

In the first half of the season Judge had a .426 BABIP which was tops in the league. In the second half he has a .256 BABIP, which ranks 142nd in all of baseball. This shows that his strikeout streak is not the sole reason why he is struggling, rather the defense opposing him has been playing better.

That is not to say the strikeouts have been getting worse. He has been striking out in 43 percent of his at-bats in the second half which is a very alarming rate. It is especially alarming for a young hitter still trying to learn the game at the big league level.

Home run derby hangover?

One reason that we may not have seen Bryce Harper in the derby yet is because he is more concerned with his play during the season. Many people have wondered if the derby is detracting players from participating because it messes with their regular swing too much.

Brandon Inge participated in the derby in 2009 and even though he regressed significantly in the second half, with only six home runs compared to 21 in the first half, he still stated that he did not believe the derby had any impact on it. He would say that baseball players are professionals, and one night of changing their swing should not do significant damage down the road.

In Judge’s case, he took many more swings during the derby than Inge did in 2009. Inge did not hit a single home run while Judge hit a staggering 47 (which will probably be more than he ends with this season). Therefore, his performance may have a more lasting effect on his season.

It is also worth noting that Miguel Sano, who reached the derby final counter to Judge, has also struggled since the event in comparison to his first half. Although, he has missed time with a shin injury. Other than Sano though, all the other participants have been having as good if not better seasons since the derby (other than Justin Bour who only has 31 at-bats in the second half).

Charlie Blackmon and Giancarlo Stanton both come some home run swings in at the derby, and they are both tearing up the league in the second half. This makes it difficult to blame the derby for Judge’s struggles.

He is still a rookie

Judge
Judge stole the show during All-Star Weekend (The Courier)

Judge got caught up in talks for MVP when he was at his peak this season. It seemed like nobody was able to stop him. At the All-Star festivities in Miami, he looked to be the face of baseball. With Mike Trout injured and not participating, there was a void that Judge was able to fill.

At that point it would be easy to consider Judge the best player in baseball. There was one simple thing we were all forgetting though, and that is he is still a rookie. Rookies do not put up 50 home run years with a .330 batting average to go along with it. Judge showed us that it was still not going to happen with him even though he was on pace to do so.

The thing with rookies is they are also new to the league, so teams are still learning more about them just like how the rookie is learning more about the league. Once Judge got enough exposure at the big league level, teams learned to exploit his weaknesses.

What does this mean for his future?

There is one classic saying in sports and that is, “The one thing you can’t teach is speed”. This statement is true, to an extent. A coach can teach a hitter power, but only so much. What they can’t teach is how to hit a ball as far as Aaron Judge.

Judge has the top four highest exit velocity hits this season along with the longest home run in the majors at 495 feet. That kind of power is not going to just go away. What may go away is his ability to hit to all fields and get good solid hits at clutch times. Those are qualities of some of the best hitters ever, and much like some other hitters in the league today such as Joey Votto and Mike Trout.

What may become of Judge may be similar to the guy whose record Judge broke this year, Adam Dunn. In coming seasons, Judge could take the Dunn approach and crank 40 homers a year while batting .220 and striking out 180 times.

Aaron Judge is still only 25 years old and has a career in the majors that should last for a while. He may have looked like the best player in baseball this year at times, but that may not be what his future holds. That does not mean that he will not be a quality player for the Yankees, but it may mean that fans should maybe bring him a notch down from legend potential.

 

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