The Yankees have been on a tear over the last few weeks. They’ve been forced to fill many roster spots due to injuries, but the call-ups have played well. Miguel Andujar was a major catalyst in getting the Yankees back on the right track, and has made a strong case to remain the starting third baseman for the rest of the season.
If there was a knock on Andujar, or a blemish that could keep him from holding down the hot corner through the rest of 2018, it would be his ability to recognize and hit the breaking ball. Very much like Aaron Judge in his first major league stint, Andujar has shown some struggles with offspeed pitches, and opposing pitchers are starting to adjust.
As Kento pointed out last week, Andujar has always been evaluated as a free-swinger, and ranks in the top 20 in baseball in swing percentage. Andujar came out swinging and exploded onto the scene in 2018, beginning his second major league stint with 12 extra-base hits through his first 19 games. However, he has yet to record another over the last nine contests. Andujar was never going to keep up that ridiculous hitting pace, but he is a highly-touted prospect for a reason. His ability to put the barrel on the ball is extremely valuable, and has become noticeable.
Pitchers, perhaps learning their lesson and developing a more detailed scouting report, have begun to breaking ball Andujar to death in hopes of getting weaker swings out of the zone. Their new strategy coupled with Andujar’s eager approach at the plate have contributed to his recent downtick in production. Here’s the increase in breaking balls against Andujar over the past month, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
It’s a small sample size of course, but it follows a similar trajectory as Aaron Judge in 2016. After mashing two home runs in his first two major league games, Judge began to get the breaking ball treatment. That resulted in a contact percentage of just 40.7 on pitches outside of the strike zone, more than 20-percent below the league average.
During the offseason, Judge spent a lot of time in batting cages with a curveball machine, and his effort paid off. Through the first two months of 2017, Judge swung at just five of the 40 curveballs he saw out of the strike zone. We all know the offensive numbers that resulted when he improved his plate discipline and pitch recognition. Now that Judge has been able to recognize pitches and work counts, he has blossomed into one of the game’s brightest stars.
Obviously, nobody is expecting Andujar to match Judge’s 2017 season. He has shown that he’s capable of making solid contact while running up impressive exit velocity, though. Pitchers have adjusted to Andujar’s sudden success. Like Judge, it’s time for Andujar to work on making his own adjustments.