Aaron Judge is having another dominant season in 2018. No, his numbers aren’t quite as good as they were last year when he was the runner-up for the AL MVP. At the same time, though, Judge is still on pace for well over 40 home runs, 100 RBI, and an OPS that eclipses .950. Factor in his immense value defensively and on the basepaths, and you have one of the most complete players in baseball.
Every player, however, has a few weaknesses, and Judge has some sharp splits that have dogged him since becoming a big leaguer. He doesn’t hit nearly as well against left-handed pitchers or on the road as he does righties or at home.
Now, just about every hitter favors a certain type of pitcher and performs better at home, but just how stark Judge’s splits are may raise some concern. Judge slashes .303./.402/.615 versus righties and .227/.393/.477 against southpaws, while his .193/.296/.386 road slash line pales in comparison to his other-worldly .355/.478/.735 numbers at home. What gives? Why does it seem to be that there exists a tale of two Judges?
First, let’s talk about Judge’s platoon splits. While it is a little odd that a hitter as talented as Judge struggles against the pitchers he should have the advantage against, his numbers versus lefties aren’t even that bad. While his average is significantly lower, he still gets on base at a high rate and hits for good power.
There is a slight difference in Judge’s approach against left-handed pitchers, though. He walks more against southpaws, but also strikes out more. This seems to indicate that Judge has a less aggressive approach against lefties and is more content to sit back. Sure enough, Judge sees more pitches against lefties per at-bat than he does versus right-handed pitchers.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Judge’s walk rate against lefties is superb. However, it could be contributing to his lower batting average. Everything comes with a trade-off, and for Judge, his improved patience versus lefties has led to a slightly lower batting average.
Judge also gets pitched against differently by right-handers and southpaws. Take a look at his 2018 heat maps, with righties coming first followed by lefties.
Judge’s heat maps show that righties have been throwing more balls down the middle, while lefties have attacked Judge more on the corners. Any hitter is going to do better when pitches are grooved belt high, and Judge is no exception. Southpaws attack Judge down and away, the toughest pitch to hit consistently, especially for a hitter with an open stance.
While Judge’s numbers are undeniably worse against lefties, they are still above average in most categories. That he takes more walks versus lefties proves that Judge has the requisite plate discipline to combat this, and eventually he’ll get better pitches to hit. He still hits the ball hard and to all fields versus southpaws, which are signs that he is improving against southpaws.
His home-road splits, however, are a bigger cause for concern. The difference in Judge’s home and road numbers show that he has a completely different hitting approach at Yankee Stadium than he does at the 29 other MLB ballparks. Yankee Stadium is a park made for Judge: It’s home-run-friendly down both lines and there’s a lot of space in the outfield gaps for extra-base hits.
Judge clearly knows how to use Yankee Stadium to his advantage when hitting. At home, he hits the ball the opposite way (to right field) at a much higher rate than he does on the road. In fact, it’s almost twice as high (32.7 percent at home, 17.7 percent on the road). Judge also hits a much higher percentage of his balls in the air at home (42.7 percent fly ball rate at home, 28.2 percent on the road). His hard contact, strikeout and walk rates are all collectively better at Yankee Stadium than anywhere else.
Away from Yankee Stadium, Judge is a completely different hitter. He pulls the ball much more (51.8 percent pull rate away, 35.5 percent home) and has worse hard contact, strikeout and walk rates. It seems that on the road, Judge is pressing a bit and is trying to get by with just his raw power.
Again, it is completely normal for hitters to be better at their home park than any other stadium. But for a hitter as unique and gifted as Judge to be changing his approach and selling out for power on the road is a little bit troubling. All of his numbers last year on the road were also worse than at home, but they weren’t as drastic as this year’s totals.
Even with these struggles on the road and versus lefties, Judge is having another tremendous year. He’s one of the smartest hitters in the bigs, and I have no doubt that Judge and the Yankees’ hitting coaches are aware of these discrepancies. They are probably working on them tirelessly. Hopefully for them — and unfortunately for fans of the 29 other teams — it’ll just be a matter of time before Aaron Judge evolves into an equal-opportunity masher: A hitter equally feared no matter the scenario.