Three months ago, in the dog days of August, one question was on the mind of every Yankees fan: “What is wrong with Aaron Judge?” On August 20, Judge had struck out in his 36th consecutive game, setting a new MLB record. His wRC+ at that point stood at 164, which doesn't seem that bad until you consider that it was north of 200 before July started. Judge was mired in a seemingly endless slump, and many were desperate to identify causes and fixes.
I, too, was worried by Judge. Instead of examining Judge's mechanics for a possible flaw, though, I decided to ask a different question: “Just how abnormal is Aaron Judge's slump?” My strategy was to compare his K% and wRC+ fluctuations with other high-strikeout, high-power sluggers to see if his s slump truly stood out in a bad way or not. My thinking was that if it did, we would really have something to worry about, and if it didn't, then chances were that Judge would recover. In the resulting article, I concluded that there was nothing extraordinary about Aaron Judge's slump, and that he would probably be fine for the rest of the season.
Looking back, I think I got that prediction right:
Judge's production skyrocketed in September, and so did my ego. Enough gloating, though. Although his slump wasn't as historic as his strikeout record made it out to be, it still was a pretty bad. Plus, Judge suffered another bout of whiff-itis in the postseason, giving cause for many to question his approach to hitting. Looking forward, what can we learn from his August slump and subsequent return to form?
Like everybody else, Judge will suffer through slumps
I know it's a mundane truism, but I think if there's anything to be gleaned from my analysis, it's this simple fact. Judge is a baseball player, and like other baseball players he will have his good stretches and bad stretches. No one is immune to them; not Giancarlo Stanton, not Mike Trout, not Barry Bonds.
While it is certainly worthwhile to try and identify concrete causes for slumps — in Judge's case, it was probably his left shoulder he was icing during the second half and had surgery on this past Monday — it's equally important to keep things in perspective and accept that Judge will slump for weeks, maybe even months. That doesn't mean necessarily mean that there is a critical flaw in Judge's profile that will prohibit him from future success. It just means he's mortal, like other baseball players.
Judge's floor is very high
That said, Judge is unlike most other players. His incredible power allows him to play by his own rules, unhindered by worldly concerns about strikeouts. Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan detailed Judge's outstanding performance on contact, noting that both his wOBA and expected wOBA on contact was more than four standard deviations higher than average. Sullivan imagined a hypothetical future in which Judge struck out even more, about 40% of the time, and found that he would have still been the offensive equivalent of Edwin Encarnacion.
If anything, the revelation that he was dealing with a shoulder injury makes his performance on contact this year even more impressive. Even during his second half slump, Judge's rolling average exit velocity over 50 batted balls only briefly dipped below 90 MPH.
If he was able to generate such power with one shoulder, well then help the American League if he ever manages to keep both shoulders intact for a full season.
Robot umpires, please
Of course, Judge can only access his power if he's getting pitches he can actually hit. To this end, umpires aren't giving him help. As Travis Sawchik noted earlier in the year, umpires have struggled with Judge's strike zone, especially on the lower outside corner.
Grumblings about his enlarged strike zone re-emerged during his second half slide, and also during the postseason. Fortunately for Judge, there is evidence that umpires have adjusted just fine to Giancarlo Stanton's strike zone, as Sawchik points out in his article. Here's hoping that the umps do some homework during winter break. Or, y’know, robot umps. Preferably with laser cannons and jet packs.
Judge's slump shows that he's mortal in two ways. Like any other player, he's going to have slumps, and he's at the mercy of the men in black. Unlike any other player, though, Judge can get jammed up and in and still hit baseballs north of 95 mph. He's still probably going to strike out more than your average hitter. Just be glad he does a lot more with the ball when he does make contact. You'll learn to love him. I know I do.