Aaron Judge’s swing has been a hot topic of discussion here on Pinstripe Alley this year. Back in June, when Judge first returned from the IL, Josh wrote a detailed analysis on the right fielder’s reworked swing and its unusual results, as Judge attempted to cut down on strikeouts going into the season. About a month ago, Ryan returned to the topic, showing that Judge was producing despite primarily hitting the ball on the ground.
It has been no secret that the Yankees’ best hitter has been struggling of late. In his last 14 days, he has posted a slashline of .200/.355/.320, with only 4 extra-base hits and 16 strikeouts. He has still been walking at a considerable rate — 11 times in his last 62 plate appearances — but beyond that, he has simply looked lost, and has not driven the ball well when he has put it in play.
To begin, let’s take start by comparing two swings: his home run off of Heath Fillmyer on April 20th (his last HR before hitting the IL this year) and a swing-and-a-miss against Eduardo Rodriguez on August 2nd.
When comparing these two swings, we can notice three glaring differences. First, and most obviously, he does a full leg kick in the home run, and only a toe tap in the strikeout. While this might be a product of the count, Judge has used a leg kick on two ball counts before, such as here against Justin Verlander on April 8th:
The second thing to note is the location and path of his hands. In the first home run (and the one against Verlander as well), Judge starts with his hands close to his face, bringing the bat back as the pitcher completes his windup before bringing the bat through the zone. During the strikeout, however, he starts with his hands further back, and while there is still a slight moment where he pulls the bat further back, for the most part he just immediately starts bringing the bat through the zone.
In isolation, this may not necessarily be a bad thing; in fact, back in Little League, many coaches worked to coach a similar “hitch” out of my swing. However, for a major-league ballplayer, this difference, slight as it seems, could throw off a hitter’s timing at the plate.
Lastly, and most importantly, Judge’s hips are opening up much faster in the two home runs than in the strikeout. Before the dingers, Judge’s legs are facing towards the pitcher before his bat has even entered the zone, while in the strikeout, his hips trail behind his bat. This is a problem, as most of a player’s power comes from this action; when it trails behind the bat, most of the swing’s power comes from the upper body, not the legs. While Judge certainly has the upper body strength to drive the ball despite this, this nonetheless has resulted in more outs — and not just with increased strikeouts, but with outs on batted balls as well, as he’s not squaring up the ball well enough, and generating more soft and medium contact than he would otherwise.
Although Judge can theoretically make an adjustment, the problem here lies in the fact that the oblique that he injured earlier in the season plays a major roll in this part of the swing. Thus, it is quite possible that his reliance on his upper body in the swing has been a result of this injury, which would make it more difficult to adjust. For the time being, the rest of the offense has been able to hold down the fort even with Judge’s struggles, but the Yankees will need him to figure things out before October rolls around.