Last month, I took a look at Miguel Andujar’s challenge as a rookie seeing a heavy dose of breaking balls, much like Aaron Judge in his first months in the majors. Judge struck out just under 50-percent of the time in 2016 before making the necessary adjustments to post a historic 2017 campaign and earn Rookie of the Year honors.
After Andujar went on an extra-base hit tirade to start the season, pitchers began dialing up the offspeed pitches to neutralize Andujar’s coveted ability to make hard contact. The rookie third baseman had to make some changes on the fly. So far, the 23-year-old is passing the test.
June has been a small sample size, but after Andujar’s grand slam against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night, he has a 1.400 OPS in 24 plate appearances in the calendar month. As the breaking ball usage against Andujar continues to rise, he continues to make the necessary adjustments to remain a productive bat in the Yankees’ lethal lineup.
Andujar’s power production dipped for a short period after the breaking ball usage increased, but he has taken little time to get back on track, as his wOBA against breaking balls in 2018 is currently .326. Andujar’s zone coverage against offspeed pitches has been great overall in 2018, especially for a rookie.
Andujar is starting to show an innate ability to recognize breaking balls low in the strike zone, even when behind in the count. His walk rate has slowly-but-surely been on the rise since April, and his whiff rate against breaking balls and offspeed pitches in June is zero percent. The drop-off comes after a six percent rise in whiff rate from April to May, when pitchers began adjusting to Andujar’s power stroke. Now it has been Andujar’s turn to regroup on the fly, and it has been an overwhelming success so far.
His two-run blast in Baltimore last weekend was the perfect culmination of his improvements at the plate. Down 0-2 in the count against Kevin Gausman, Andujar sat back on a breaking ball just above his ankles before launching it into the left field seats to give the Yankees an early lead.
He also began to use his aggressive approach at the plate to his advantage. His grand slam in Toronto came on a first pitch cutter at 83 mph against Seunghwan Oh, which Andujar demolished into the second deck.
Rookies often have a tough time adjusting to major league pitching, especially when those pitchers are making adjustments of their own. Andujar, who was considered to be a very raw, talented hitter like a young Didi Gregorius or Robinson Cano, has shown incredible promise by making improvements at the plate and continuing to be one of the best extra-base hitters in the game this season.
Even before the Yankees picked up Brandon Drury in the offseason, nobody expected Andujar to contribute at this level. Drury’s injury has shown the Yankees that they have an elite and evolving hitter at the hot corner, and will be awfully tough to remove once Drury is healthy again.