Aaron Judge’s New Approach

Yankees’ right fielder Aaron Judge homered in three straight games earlier this week. That, combined with his judicial last name, has resulted in a multitude of excellent, top-notch, entirely original judge-based puns, each of which is far beyond the talents of this author. My attempts (“he judged that ball really far” and “that was a home ‘judge’ run”) seem to be missing the mark. In any case, we can reasonably predict that the visionary legal-themed headlines of others will continue, but can the same be said for Judge’s power and contact rates? Let us look at how Judge has accomplished what he has in the first eight games of the season, and I’ll let you be the… person who decides.

Andrew Gargano wrote an excellent piece Thursday that pointed out just how frequently Judge swung and missed last year, and how he has improved on those numbers in 2017. Here, I will endeavor to find out what sort of pitches had been fooling Judge and how he has fixed his approach. To figure out the strategy that opposing pitchers used to such great effect in 2016, let’s first look at exactly where he was being pitched.

1 - 2016 raw pitch count

The zone profile shows that over 25 percent of the pitches Judge saw were outside and away, and based on what we already know about his strikeout numbers, we can assume he was having trouble laying off and making contact with those pitches. To confirm, let’s consult a profile of his whiffs per swing, though I warn you, the following chart is not for the faint of heart.

2 - 2016 whiffs per swing

Yikes. That is both a lot of swings and a lot of misses at pitches outside the strike zone. I will save you from more grisly evidence, but those whiffs down and away were mainly on breaking or offspeed pitches, while the swings and misses above the zone resulted (with one exception) from fastballs. So, if you were a major league pitcher facing Aaron Judge in 2016, all you had to do was feed him fastballs up, or breaking pitches down and away, and you would have had yourself a nice little confidence boost in front of a big ol’ stadium of screaming fans. You struck out that big strong guy, way to go bud! However, this year you might not be so lucky.

So far in 2017, pitchers have attacked the Yankee right fielder in much the same way, as over 30 percent of the pitches he has seen have been down and away. The results, though, look quite different. Here are his whiffs per swing so far this year:

3 - 2017 Whiffs per swing

Judge is still missing pitches below the zone, but in far lower numbers. Now if we look at his overall swing rate…

4 - 2017 Swing Rate


…we see that he is doing a much better job of laying off of pitches outside and away. All of Judge’s big-league home runs to date have come on pitches on the inner half of the strike zone, and so far in 2017, those are the pitches he seems most interested in swinging at. Pitchers, of course, will adjust to the changes that Judge has made, and he still seems vulnerable on fastballs above the zone, but these recent results have been a significant step in the right direction.

Entering this season, the question marks surrounding the 25-year-old right fielder were whether or not he could cut down on strikeouts and capitalize on the raw power he has exhibited in the past. So far, Judge has significantly decreased his swings at pitches that he struggles to hit, and has made more consistent contact with the pitches he can demolish, likely driving John Sterling to stay up late into the night researching new legal verbiage to exclaim when Judge smashes another dinger. Time will tell if he can continue to lay off of that low and away breaking ball, but for now, when it comes to the choice between swinging and not swinging, Judge appears to be showing an improved sense of decision-making. I mean judgement! Improved judgement. Nailed it.


Lead photo: Adam Hunger  / USA Today Sports

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