Gary Sanchez has stolen the spotlight among recent Yankees call-ups. It would be hard to get any attention next to what the 23-year-old catcher has done, but Aaron Judge has also not had the best debut. Though he has played in all of 14 games so far, there are a few reasons he has mostly been forgotten. Obviously, it’s a very small sample size, but this is all we have right now.
Strikeouts have always been a problem for Judge. His K-rate has sat in the mid-to-high 20s, though he managed to drop it to 23% in Triple-A this year. In the early goings of his career, he’s backed up a bit and is striking out at around 38% against a league average of 21%. That’s not good, but when you consider it’s only about 50-something plate appearances, you know it’s going to normalize at some point.
Then again, pitch recognition was always the reason for all the strikeouts. He’s always hit well against the fastball, but throw him anything with movement and he’s going to have trouble. This trend has continued in the majors as evidenced by his whiff rate against the different pitches he’s faced. Judge as a perfect 7-8% whiff rate against two-seam and four-seam fastballs, but against offspeed stuff things get ugly. He’s whiffing on changeups 38% of the time, cutters 25%, sliders 20%, and curveballs 14%. Some of this is small sample size, but most of it is par for the course with him.
Aside from failing to identify pitches, he’s also not doing a great job of controlling the strikezone and forcing pitchers to throw strikes. His inability to recognize a breaking pitch is causing him to chase the ball out of the zone and make it easier for pitchers to set him up.
Not only is he chasing pitches outside of the zone, but he’s also watching pitches go by in the strikezone. They actually mentioned this on last night’s broadcast, believing that he might be thinking too much up at the plate and allowing strikes he should be swinging at to go by.
This is an awful lot of called strikes right in the heart of the plate, but Judge seems to be caught in between right now. A lot of these he might be guessing breaking pitch and instead a fastball freezes him for strike three. He was caught looking twice just last night.
To the surprise of many, Judge has never been a dead pull hitter. Instead of turning on pitches and yanking them over the wall, he takes an all-fields approach that sacrifices some of his power for a more even approach at the plate. In the early goings of his career, Judge, a right-handed hitter inside Yankee Stadium, has almost completely abandoned trying to pull the ball, and is instead insisting on pushing it the other way.
He has a 451 wRC+ when going the opposite way and a 79 wRC+ when pulling the ball. He’s launching flyballs out to right field, but mostly rolling over the ball when he pulls it, causing weak contact and ground balls. When you consider he has a 174 wRC+ at home and a -28 wRC+ on the road, it’s possible he may be aiming too much for the short porch in right field. Getting away from what he does best could be hurting him at the moment.
Before everyone gets too disappointed, it’s important to remember that this is an extremely small sample size and he’s bound to improve in most of these areas. It should also be mentioned that Judge is doing this while almost exclusively facing right-handed pitchers. So far he has appeared in one game where a lefty pitched to him, and since right-handed hitters are usually weaker against right-handed pitchers, it’s easy to see how things look so bad for him.
The more reps he gets, the more lefties he will face, and the more he will work his way back towards normalization. Joe Girardi mentioned that Judge has to adjust to how pitchers are throwing to him. It might take some time, but eventually he will–he’s gotten this far for a reason. Maybe we see better from him the rest of the way, or maybe the adjustments happen next year. It’s just that right now, he needs to figure out what he’s swinging at and how he wants to hit it. They can’t all come up swinging like Gary Sanchez, sometimes we have to be patient.