During the rough stretch that has been the last few weeks for the New York Yankees, some people have suggested that this weekly column is out of place. And to be honest, I do see where you’re coming from. However, this series’ pure focus isn’t to be a representation of the Yankees’ success. Yes, that is a piece of it. However, my original intention when starting this wasn’t to say, “look how great this team was.” Instead, I wanted it to be a trip through the minute details of pitching sequencing, matchup details, and swing adjustments. The cat and mouse game of the at-bat between hitter and the pitcher-catcher combination is probably the most important aspect of the game. That is where the winning and losing happens.
So as we progress through what is most likely going to be a rough rest of the season, that will continue to be the focus of this series. The offense may very well still struggle through this time — that is the most likely scenario. However, this may offer a chance to see whether a particular hitter is progressing, or even continuing a hot streak.
With that said, let’s jump into this past week’s most pivotal at-bat. During the stretch run of last year, Aaron Judge dominated the honors for this series, and this summer will likely be no different. The team is lifeless without him. It is no surprise that upon his return, his production jolted the team into an extremely important win against the Baltimore Orioles. After a three walk game in his return on Friday night, he came out hacking with three batted balls of at least 105 mph. But his most important swing came in the top of the third inning against Tyler Wells.
In Judge’s return from the IL, there were two things we had to pay attention to. First, would his connection to the ground look stable given his long absence. Second, what would his level of aggression be? Would the lack of true rehab games affect him? Or would he just be regular ‘ole Aaron Judge? You know the answer, but let’s jump into it.
Pitch 1 (0-0 count, curveball)
Well, this answers the aggression question! There are so many hitters that will let a 73 mph loopy curveball pass them by in a 0-0 count even if it is center cut like this. But Judge knows Tyler Wells’ approach and recognized the pitch early enough to put a hack on the pitch. This is one of the times when I would say that Judge’s second percentile whiff rate is completely representative of his bat to ball ability. He knows when to take in an all-or-nothing situation. In this count and pitch, if he is going to make contact, it’s going to be sent.
Pitch 2 (0-1 count, changeup)
The pitch identification happened so early. This was a very well executed changeup from Wells, but Judge saw it so early that to him, it wasn’t a competitive pitch. After seeing this take from Judge, it would have been smart for Adley Rutschman and Wells to render this pitch useless for the rest of the at-bat. If he is taking the best version of the pitch with ease, why the heck would you go back to it?
Pitch 3 (1-1 count, 4-seamer)
I think the overarching theme here is that Judge was seeing every pitch out of Wells’ hand with ease. A solid 0-0 hack was followed by an easy 0-1 take. Then Judge just absolutely unloaded on a heater at the top of the zone. You don’t typically see the ball sail out this fast to center field, but this man is different. The good news is he is clearly healthy and feeling fantastic. He is still the best hitter in the game and with him in the lineup, this team cannot give up.
Oh, and as a final note, Aaron Judge is wearing new cleats. This is something I pay a lot of attention to. So, when I saw him rocking a more standard set of Nikes, it immediately caught my eye. To be precise, they are Jordan 1 lows. It’s another easter egg in his quiet transition to his silent partnership with Jordan.