Aaron Judge has had a rough ALDS so far. It’s not that he’s hitting weakly. He’s just not hitting period. Across 14 plate appearances, the right hander owns a .000/.286/.000 batting line. Judge struck out eight times over that span as well. Of course this represents a small sample size, but everything gets magnified in the postseason. When a player struggles for the Yankees during the playoffs, then the scrutiny amplifies a hundredfold.
Judge’s struggles, however, have a tangible cause. This isn’t random noise in the sample. We can authoritatively point to the strikeouts as the culprits, namely the number of times he’s struck out looking. Half of all his ALDS strikeouts came without him swinging the bat. If that number sounds high, that’s because it is. According to Baseball Savant, 30% of Judges strikeouts came looking during the regular season. That’s jumped to a 50% against the Indians.
A strong batting eye stands out among Judge’s most prominent traits. For years the scouting reports suggested he had a knack for identifying pitches; he came advertised as a classic power and patience slugger. In 2017, he swung at just 24.7% of pitches out of the zone. Conversely, he made an effort at 62.5% of pitches inside the strike zone. That means if Judge didn’t swing, it probably wasn’t a strike.
Did he suddenly forget his plate discipline? That’s unlikely. In fact, his rising strikeout rate has little to do with him it all. The blame falls squarely on the umpires, who have egregiously expanded his strike zone throughout the entire ALDS. Take last night’s game for example. Carlos Carrasco caught Judge looking on this pitch:
That’s well below his knees, yet home plate umpire Dana DeMuth called it for strike three. He hasn’t been the only one to do that. Vic Carapazza and Dan Iassogna had a field day with their called strikes as well. The chart below shows the location of all 14 strikes that the umpiring crew called against Judge.
Very few of those hover in the middle of the zone. Six of them sit on the bottom, while two are far off the plate. One has to keep in mind that Judge doesn’t have a typical strike zone. He’s 6’7” - a standard zone doesn’t fit him. Umpires have to adjust accordingly. When they start calling balls below his knees strikes, he never stands a chance.
For their part, Cleveland’s pitching staff has done a good job freezing Judge. The problem, though, remains that they have the benefit of an ever expanding zone. They don’t need to throw Judge strikes because the umpires will call them anyway. It’s a problem at any point of the year, but looks especially egregious during the postseason.
Tonight the Yankees look to extend their season with another victory over the Indians. Judge, for his part, will have battle not only Trevor Bauer, but the umpiring crew. He has to overcome an extra obstacle by virtue of their indiscretion. A lack of accountability and consistency on their part has neutralized the Yankees’ best hitter. The umpires, point blank, have to be better.