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Aaron Judge’s slump is no problem

He may have stumbled out of the second-half gate, but there shouldn’t be cause for concern.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox - Game Two Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

I wrote an article a month ago about how crazy it was that Aaron Judge hadn’t regressed yet. That was basically true for another two weeks, but we have since seen a precipitous drop-off in his performance in the month of July. In his last 53 plate appearances, he has a 109 wRC+ with “just” three home runs and a lone double. Let’s investigate.

The obvious first place to look is plate discipline. Here are his full-season numbers...

...and here’s what it looks like in July:

This kind of nixes the conventional wisdom that he’s somehow pressing significantly more. He’s swinging and missing a tick more, and he’s making contact a tick less. It’s not massive for such a small sample, though.

Next is batted ball profile. Is he hitting balls much more weakly? Let’s see. Here’s the full season again...

...and here’s what he’s done in July:

Is it great? No. But is it catastrophic? One really couldn’t say that when less than ten percent of his contact is weak. He’s not drilling the ball as often, but in the air more often, so it’s not that he’s completely missing.

One possibility is, well, he hasn’t gotten a lot to hit. Here’s where he has been pitched to in July:

He has gotten a lot of pitches low and away and high up in the zone, and the latter is the only I would consider a source of legitimate concern. His swing, while shortened, is still generally long because of his size, so either laying off the high pitch or learning to turn around on it is the only way to make that issue go away. My guess is, based on past cases, that he can do that.

Part of it, of course, is random variation. His BABIP has dipped in July to a more reasonable .333, and we saw that on display when Jackie Bradley Jr. stole a home run from him on Sunday night. It happens.

A common refrain we’re going to be hearing during this “slump” is that the Home Run Derby is what screwed up his swing. Not only is that not supported by any empirical evidence, but it’s mostly an illusion for one obvious reason: survivor bias. The only players who hit in the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game are generally players who out-perform their talent level and projections, even the stars.

That means that second-half performance can almost never appear to be as good as the first half, because of course they aren’t: there are no All-Stars for players who under-performed in the first half but exploded in the second half, so no one draws that line. Judge’s HR/FB%, BABIP, and wRC+ are at such otherwordly levels that it’s almost impossible not to regress to what a projection system believes to be his true talent. We don’t know what that talent level is yet, so the regression has yet to be determined.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Judge is coming down, or that the Derby ruined his play. The Derby will always appear to ruin players hitting home runs like crazy in the first half, because great first halves are unlikely to be repeated. And Judge is coming down because despite looking like a God he is still a human being, and he will eventually settle a little lower than he is. This slump is a road block, and he’ll be hitting dingers again before we know it.