The large majority of players in MLB have phenomenal swings. You don’t get there by accident. It takes an efficient and strong swing to make it as far as these players have while facing the world’s top competition. But how exactly do we differentiate between all those great swings? Data can tell us a ton when it comes to a player’s tendencies relative to everyone else. Motion capture analysis can help adding more context too. However, there is a quality that all the best hitters in baseball possess that sets them apart from the rest of the world, and that is making pitch-to-pitch adjustments.
It’s an art form. Of course, many things go into it, but I’ll focus on the most important two: understanding the aspects of your swing and the pitcher’s tendencies. It’s one thing to have the ability to take a great, efficient swing. It’s another to take a B swing in the middle of an at-bat and have the proprioception to change that previous swing according to what you felt and what the pitch was. On top of that, you have to make that adjustment according to who you’re facing, what that previous pitch was, and how you can be prepared for whatever pitch is coming next.
On the Yankees, a few players do this consistently, but Aaron Judge stands above the rest. Like we all know, he is a gargantuan of a human being. It makes it inevitable that he will have a hole or two in his near perfect swing relative to his body. Despite that, he excels against all types of pitchers. That’s largely due to his insane pitch-to-pitch adjustments.
Judge has an uncanny ability to take in and process information very quickly. It’s not like he is Mike Trout who has five different versions of flawless swings. No. 99 needs to fight some pitches off and make slight adjustments to get his barrel out in front of the plate to do the damage he can. His walk-off against Jordan Romano was a perfect at-bat which demonstrated how special of a hitter he is, and how important pitch-to-pitch adjustments are. Let’s relive it:
A backed up slider that definitely surprised Judge. It looks like he wanted to ambush a fastball here. That’s a valid approach for a hitter looking to end the game with one swing.
Romano went with another slider on the 0-1 count. With Judge not recognizing the spin in pitch one, it was a good decision. Although, he didn’t execute it as well, Judge swung on this one because he recognized the spin on the pitch early. He was a bit out in front though.
It’s tough to triple up on your best pitch like Romano did here. It was an easy spit. You may have thought Judge was slightly fooled based on his take, but it’s clear to me he was in swing first mode and wouldn’t let anything come in the zone without an aggressive hack.
This was not a great pitch from Romano. It caught a bit too much of the zone. However, Judge just saw three straight sliders, so he wasn’t perfectly on time for it. He put a good swing on it, but it just turned out to be a fought off foul ball.
Now with that info, where does Romano go next? His velo on the fastball was only 95 and he kept Judge slightly off balance on the three sliders to start the count. Slider was the logical pitch.
A fourth slider in five pitches. Judge was so, so close to destroying this pitch. He was perfectly on time with his load and foot plant but pulled the trigger slightly too quick. He saw the spin, but the pitch had decent bite and was enough to keep Judge early. Where would he go next? Judge’s swing on the fastball was probably better than the swings on the sliders. It’s a good opportunity for a waste pitch to see if Judge is too antsy.
Boom. On a fifth slider in six pitches, Judge would not be fooled. Romano wanted this one below the zone. Instead, he threw it similarly to the first backed up slider and hung it right in the middle of the plate. After being early on every other slider in the at-bat, Judge waited just slightly longer. The backed up spin helped him decelerate as he landed while better recognizing the pitch. If you’re going to throw five sliders in six pitches to one of the best hitters in the game, you have to execute them. Romano didn’t and Judge made him pay.
See what I mean? Romano had been great all year, for the most part. I’m sure he had all the confidence in the world that his best pitch, the slider, was the way to go despite throwing it four times before. He was wrong. Judge saw the ball spin easily and deposited it into the night. An incredible adjustment by an incredible hitter. So far, he has been one of, if not the best hitter in baseball and having at-bats like this on a consistent basis is a big reason why.