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Aaron Judge is slumping, but he’s not missing by much

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A spike in fly ball percentage shows how the struggling Judge is just getting under the ball.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The decision by Joe Girardi to sit Aaron Judge for a few days has given Yankees Universe time to reflect on the rookie’s unbelievable and historic first half, and what has gone wrong since. After entering the All-Star break with a .329 batting average and an OPS of 1.139, Judge was seen as a potential Triple Crown threat and seemed to be a lock to become just the third player ever to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.

Almost two months later, the MVP talks have hushed, and thoughts of a Triple Crown are now a distant memory. Judge’s average has taken a nosedive after a second half slump has him batting .179. It has left fans scratching their heads. What happened to one of the most feared hitters in baseball?

Judge is still going to win Rookie of the Year. His first three months were out of this world, and put him light years ahead of the rest of the pack. His recent trend of striking out more and not hitting moonshots into the upper deck is frustrating, but slumps happen. Sure, this skid feels a bit more extended, but it may not be as bad as it looks in the box score. On so many occasions during this frustrating stretch, Judge has been awfully close to unloading on the ball and reminding everyone of his unreal power.

How many times have we seen Judge foul a ball straight back or send one to the warning track in the past two months? I would argue it’s happened frequently. It’s easy to focus on the strikeouts, but there have also been plenty of good at-bats that just haven’t ended with a trip around the bases. We’ve heard Paul O’Neill in the YES booth mention that Judge seems to be dropping his shoulder a bit, which is something worth looking into.

In the first half of the season, Judge’s fly ball percentage was 37.5%. That number has jumped up to 48.1% in the second half, while his BABIP has plummeted from .426 to .257. The increase in fly balls could support O’Neill’s theory that the shoulder is dipping just a bit for Judge, which we know in baseball is the difference between a home run and what John Sterling calls, “a mile-high pop up.”

The nature of Judge’s contact also illustrates a narrow gap between slump and success. There has been very little uptick in Judge’s soft contact percentage since the All-Star break, but his hard contact percentage has dropped from 49% to 32.1%. However, his medium contact percentage has increased from 39.1% to 53.1% in the second half of the season. Again, Judge is not missing by much.

He is still putting together quality at-bats, although he has been caught guessing on two-strike pitches at times. His walk percentages are up since the All-Star break, and he has worked the count full 142 times this season. Here’s an example of him working a solid at-bat against one of the best closers in baseball, and narrowly missing on multiple pitches before being retired:

Again, he worked a 10-pitch at-bat, fouled multiple pitches straight back, but just wasn’t able to finish the job. It’s not a situation where a player simply looks lost at the plate. There’s just a minor mechanical tweak to be made that could cut back on the fly outs. It involves his shoulder.

Speaking of which, the situation with Judge’s shoulder needs to be addressed. Concern was raised when Judge was seen icing it, and rumors of cortisone shots were buzzing around Twitter. Bryan Hoch tweeted on Wednesday that Judge said there has only been ice treatment for his left shoulder, and there have been no cortisone shots yet.

Is pain in his shoulder a cause for the dipping and fly ball spike? Not according to Judge, who insists he is fine, but he also isn’t the type to formulate an excuse. Still, it’s hard to catch up to pitches up in the zone if your lead shoulder is in discomfort, which could be why he has been increasingly vulnerable on high pitches recently.

Maybe sitting Judge for a few days earlier this week will bring him back refreshed and able to get on top of the ball more, or maybe the shoulder issue is hurting him more than we are being told. There is no denying that Judge is struggling, but he is not buried deep in an insurmountable slump. He is only a tad off and just getting under the ball, which will hopefully be corrected soon.