Aaron Judge, it goes without saying, is a marvelous player, a true game-changer. However, he is currently off to an uneven start for the Yankees. Even though his wRC+ remains steady at 120 (before Wednesday’s game), it’s well-known at this point that his floor is 140. That has been his lowest mark over a full season, and it came in 2020 (not precisely a “full” campaign).
Judge is slashing .250/.333/.400. He is still taking walks at a healthy rate, but his power hasn’t been there. He has just one home run to his name, and just a pair of RBI. RBI aren’t precisely the best way to evaluate offensive performance, but still, it’s noteworthy that he has only driven in one run in 11 games.
His biggest problem thus far during this young season has been his chase rate. For some reason, he is expanding the strike zone quite a bit, like never before in his career in fact. Judge has always struck out a lot, but his O-swing% (percentage of swings on pitches outside of the strike zone) has never been higher than 27 percent.
So far- again, before Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Tigers - his O-swing rate is at 34.1 percent. His career mark is 25.9 percent, so this marks a significant departure. It goes a long way to explain some of his relative offensive “struggles” so far.
It’s an issue because Judge seems more vulnerable than ever on pitches outside of the zone located low and away. Here are Judge’s whiff percentages by zone in 2021:
And here are his 2022 marks per zone:
There has been a sizable increase in whiff percentage low and away, outside of the zone. Each time Judge swings at those pitches, he is missing 89 percent of the time. Last year, he whiffed on 62 percent of those offerings. He is also whiffing more in pitches low and in:
What about his swing percentages? That’s why we are here, actually. The graphics show that he has typically had more of an issue chasing inside pitches out of the zone, rather than outside pitches. Here is 2021:
Expanding the zone in such a way leaves Judge in undesirable spots. It puts him in bad counts, in worse position to drive the ball and do damage like we’ve come to expect from him.
Now, why is Judge expanding the zone at such an untenable rate? It’s impossible to know without asking him directly. However, he may be pressing, for many plausible reasons: MLB hitters are human, and he just turned down $30.5 million per year and may be trying to prove to himself, the Yankees, and other teams he is worth more than that.
Another possible reason for his elevated chase rate is an adjustment period to hitting coach Dillon Lawson’s more aggressive approach. Lawson encourages batters to play aggressively and hit strikes hard, and Judge may be losing his focus and plate discipline while trying to fulfill those requirements.
In any case, this looks like a fixable issue, and the Yankees shouldn’t be too concerned. This is Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ best hitter and one of the very best in MLB, and he has shown the ability to adjust in the past. Give him time and some reps, and this will likely be a thing of the past in no time. That said, it’s a problem that the Yankees should keep their eye on as we progress into the season.