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Evaluating Aaron Judge since his return to the Yankees from the injured list

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Judge entered the 2019 season with a noticeably new approach. Has he maintained that since his lengthy stint on the IL?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge has been back from the IL for nearly a month after suffering an oblique strain, and so far, he’s been his productive self— save for the silly home-run power. Judge entered Wednesday’s action slashing .304/.424/.548 on the season, and Tuesday’s home run was one of the biggest hits of the Yankees’ season. Needless to say, it’s good to have Judge back.

But what version of Judge did the Yankees get back? When he first returned from the IL late in June, Josh wrote a great piece evaluating Judge’s new approach at the plate before he was injured. The right-fielder mainly shortened his swing and almost eliminated his leg kick with two strikes, making him a more productive hitter with two strikes. Unfortunately, it appeared to sacrifice his vaunted home-run swing along the way.

From Opening Day to April 20—the day of his injury—Judge posted a groundball rate of 39.6%t compared to his fly-ball rate of just 29.2%. His hard-contact rate was higher than his career average, but his new approach led to a lot more singles than dingers.

Has this trend held up since his return from the IL? Well, his groundball rate since coming back is now at 43.9%, compared to a fly-ball rate of 29.3% and a line-drive rate of 26.8%. His hard-contact rate is still a ridiculous 61%, but the majority of that hard contact is going on to the ground for singles. Think back to last Saturday against Toronto, when Judge smacked four singles through the infield that nobody had a chance of getting to.

So, what do we make of this trend that has clearly continued since his return from injury? On the positive side, Judge’s average exit velocity is up yet again this season, though those hard-hit baseballs are finding the seats at a lessened rate; you can’t hit dingers on groundballs.

Sure, hard-hit grounders are more likely to wind up as base hits unless you’re struck with bad BABIP luck. Those hard hits, however, would do Judge and the Yankees better if they were put into the air. Then they could clear the seats and lead to more runs. Fortunately, Judge showed he could still unleash that production on Tuesday night, when he ‘fought off’ a two-strike fastball into the seats to give the Yankees the lead.

The leg kick was still diminished, but the power was still there. It was also on a pitch just above knee level, and instead of driving it into the ground for a single, he lifted it into the seats for a big home run. With Judge’s strength, we know that’s possible, and extremely beneficial to the Yankees.

As Josh noted in his post, Judge made this new approach a priority back in spring training, as part of his drive to be more efficient with two strikes. That mission has been accomplished in terms of OPS, but there hasn’t been too much of a drop in strikeout percentage compared to last year (28.3% this year, 30.5% last year). Is that kind of improvement worth the decrease in power numbers?

Again, Judge has been highly productive since his return. A .972 OPS is absolutely nothing to scoff at. But as baseball has shown over the years, you tend to do more damage with hard-hit balls in the air than on the ground, even if Judge has shown ability to do damage with both.