Aaron Judge Turns It Around

The New York Yankees have weathered more than their fair share of adversity this season. Thanks to a multitude of successful player development initiatives throughout the organization, the depth of the Yankees’ roster has allowed them to withstand the onslaught of injuries wrought by 2019. Despite their resilience, as the Bombers continue their march to capture the franchise’s twenty-eighth World Series title, the one thing it’s hard to envision them climbing to the top of the mountain without is a healthy and effective Aaron Judge.

That being the case, Judge’s recent slump was certainly cause for consternation. In twenty-one games from July 25th through August 15th, Judge slashed .148/.266/.235 for a .228 wOBA and 35 wRC+. In 94 plate appearances, he hit just one home run, four doubles, and walked twelve times against thirty-one strikeouts.

On April 20th, Judge injured his left oblique on a swing and missed time from April 21st until his return to the lineup two months later on June 21st. Many feared this most recent slump was the manifestation of lingering effects from the oblique injury. The Yankees’ right fielder maintained that he was healthy, and his numbers in the month after he returned seem to support that assertion. Judge hit .330/.460/.571 from June 21st to July 24th with a .429 wOBA and 171 wRC+. Those don’t look like the numbers of a player who came off the IL too quickly. Judge did come back with one noticeable change, however.

Below is a video of Judge in his first plate appearance of the season on March 28th against the Baltimore Orioles.

For good measure, here’s a freeze frame of his batting stance.

His hands are held high and close to his head with only the bottom hand being visible from this angle. As for his lower half, Judge is only slightly open in his stance here. If you’re an avid Yankees fan or just an Aaron Judge enthusiast, you may remember that the twenty-seven year old was experimenting by using no leg kick in two strike counts early this season in an effort to make more contact. Instead, he was lifting only his left heel off the ground during his load and placing it back down as he began to shift his weight forward. Here’s an example of that two strike approach on March 30th against the O’s.

By April 6th, after not hitting a homer in his first seven games of the season, Judge had abandoned that approach, perhaps in an effort to regain some of his hallmark power.

Here’s another snapshot of Judge’s revamped stance to accentuate the differences.

Judge’s hands are farther away from his body, and his bat is angled more vertically and tilted forward as his top hand has appeared from behind his helmet. He also looks slightly more open in his stance as more of his right knee and leg have become visible. If Judge was seeking more power with these adjustments, it worked. He hit five homers in thirteen games from April 6th through April 20th before injuring his oblique.

When Judge returned from the IL, there was some variation in his batting stance in the first few games back, but he eventually settled on the stance he used against Clayton Richard and the Toronto Blue Jays on June 25th.

Judge’s hands are much lower and even farther away from his body, and he’s as open as we’ve seen him in 2019. As noted above, these changes worked initially, as Judge had success in his first month off the IL. But eventually, they began to present issues.

Even in the at bat against Richard, you can see how much Judge’s hands have to work to get into a hitting position during his load. Against an 81 mph slider on the outside part of the plate, that may not matter much. But against fastballs on the inner part of the plate, that could get you into trouble if your timing isn’t right.

During Judge’s slump, he struggled to get the ball in the air. From July 25th to August 15th, his ground ball rate was 48%, almost ten percent higher than his 38.5% career mark and seven percent higher than his overall 41.2% ground ball rate during the 2019 season. Judge saw his ground ball rate start to increase when he came back from the IL in June, corresponding with the change in his batting stance. The following table shows a breakdown of his batted ball profile in three different periods this season.

Date RangeGB%LD%FB%
3/28 – 4/2039.6%31.3%29.2%
6/21 – 7/2443.9%28.1%28.1%
7/25 – 8/1548.0%24.0%28.0

Judge’s ground ball rate trended upward, his line drive rate trended downward, and his fly ball rate ticked down slightly. Digging deeper, in addition to hitting the ball on the ground more often, we can see that Judge was also making less solid contact during his slump. According to Statcast, his average exit velocity of 93.4 mph from July 25th through August 15th was almost two miles per hour lower than his career 95.2 mph average and more than three miles per hour lower than his 96.5 mph 2019 average. The trend was even more pronounced when Judge was pulling the baseball. Below are Statcast numbers for the same three periods above on Judge’s pulled batted balls.

Date RangeExit VelocityLaunch AnglewOBAxwOBA
3/28 – 4/20101.2 mph1.1 degrees.273.523
6/21 – 7/2497.5 mph-7.0 degrees.470.427
7/25 – 8/1590.3 mph-7.4 degrees.300.323

The drastic decrease in launch angle began when Judge returned from the IL. Still making solid contact, he was able to salvage many of those balls to the pull side. Predictably, as Judge’s exit velocity on pulled batted balls dipped, so did his offensive production. During his downturn, Judge seemed to have particular trouble handling fastballs, which he’s typically punished throughout his career. The table below shows his numbers against four-seamers, two-seamers, and sinkers as categorized by Statcast (cutters have been excluded as some pitchers use cutters more like sliders than more traditional fastballs).

Date RangeExit VelocityLaunch AnglewOBAxwOBA
3/28 – 4/2098.9 mph14.6 degrees.449.542
6/21 – 7/24100.4 mph6.6 degrees.486.442
7/25 – 8/1594.5 mph5.4 degrees.232.307

Judge’s drop in production was even more pronounced when pulling fastballs (again, four-seamers, two-seamers, and sinkers).

Date RangeExit VelocityLaunch AnglewOBAxwOBA
3/28 – 4/20100.3 mph8.5 degrees.438.590
6/21 – 7/2499.6 mph-12.9 degrees.468.401
7/25 – 8/1589.3 mph-13.4 degrees.194.192

With such a low average launch angle, Judge couldn’t afford the more than 10 mph decrease in exit velocity. It appears that Judge was late getting around on fastballs and having trouble squaring them up during his slump. Here he is facing Boston Red Sox starter Rick Porcello on July 25th.

Judge takes on Eduardo Rodriguez on August 2nd.

And Darwinzon Hernandez on August 4th.

In the three videos above as with the clip against Richard, you can see how far Judge’s hands have to go before he can start to attack each pitch. If Judge’s timing is off, that extra movement can make it more difficult to meet an inside fastball out in front of the plate where it can be pulled in the air to left field. Additionally, a more complicated setup at the plate always opens up the possibility for more to go wrong with your swing. By introducing more movement into his mechanics, Judge may have found it more difficult to barrel the ball up consistently.

Above are attempts to capture Judge at the point of contact in each of the three clips against Porcello, Rodriguez, and Hernandez. Judge’s right elbow is absolutely pinned to his right hip as he’s late on the inside fastball, unable to fully extend his arms at contact. Without getting his arms extended, Judge can’t catch the ball out in front of the plate, robbing him of his prodigious power and preventing him from getting the ball in the air to the pull side. Judge also fails to get the barrel of the bat on all three pitches.

On August 16th, Aaron Judge made a change.

Facing Cleveland Indians rookie Aaron Civale, Judge’s hands are almost exactly where they were when he started the season: held high with his top hand disappearing behind his helmet and the bat angled much more horizontally with no forward tilt. Judge remains significantly open in his stance on the 16th but would come almost back to even by August 21st against Mike Fiers and the Oakland Athletics.

Judge has seen immediate results. From August 16th through August 26th, Judge has slashed .351/.385/.757 with a .405 ISO for a .461 wOBA and 192 wRC+. To display the difference, here’s Judge turning on a 95 mph four-seam fastball on the inside corner from Brad Hand on August 18th for a 100.6 mph double over the head of left fielder Oscar Mercado.

On August 21st, he ropes a 103.1 mph worm killer right at Matt Chapman on a 90 mph four-seamer on the inside part of the plate from Fiers.

Let’s take a look at Judge at the point of contact on both swings.

In each picture, you can see daylight between Judge’s back elbow and right hip, evidence that he’s more extended, which has led to harder contact and more lift for the righty slugger. He also gets both pitches on the barrel, which will always lead to better contact.

Below is the table from above showing Judge’s numbers when pulling fastballs including his latest hot streak starting on August 16th. He’s back to crushing fastballs and is also getting them in the air, where his power is at its most dangerous.

Date RangeExit VelocityLaunch AnglewOBAxwOBA
3/28 – 4/20100.3 mph8.5 degrees.438.590
6/21 – 7/2499.6 mph-12.9 degrees.468.401
7/25 – 8/1589.3 mph-13.4 degrees.194.192
8/16 – 8/26103.7 mph11.7 degrees.586.830

Those trends are not isolated to pulled fastballs either, supporting the idea that Judge’s new stance has not only improved his timing but helped him square up pitches more consistently. Here are his Statcast metrics against that fastball pitch grouping generally.

Date RangeExit VelocityLaunch AnglewOBAxwOBA
3/28 – 4/2098.9 mph14.6 degrees.449.542
6/21 – 7/24100.4 mph6.6 degrees.486.442
7/25 – 8/1594.5 mph5.4 degrees.232.307
8/16 – 8/2697.6 mph16.9 degrees.509.566

Since making his latest adjustment, Judge has been pulling the ball with more authority and in the air more frequently on all pitches, which you can see in his numbers when pulling the ball on all pitch types below.

Date RangeExit VelocityLaunch AnglewOBAxwOBA
3/28 – 4/20101.2 mph1.1 degrees.273.523
6/21 – 7/2497.5 mph-7.0 degrees.470.427
7/25 – 8/1590.3 mph-7.4 degrees.300.323
8/16 – 8/2697.8 mph4.3 degrees.654.779

Judge’s improved timing and ability to get the ball on the barrel has improved his overall numbers as well. Since August 16th, his average exit velocity on batted balls is 95.5 mph and his average launch angle is 15.4 degrees, leading to a .498 wOBA and a .508 xwOBA. According to data available at FanGraphs, 66.7% of his batted balls during that span have been categorized as hard hit balls. His batted ball profile shows major changes in his ability to get the ball in the air and to his pull side.

Date RangeGB%LD%FB%Pull%Cent%Oppo%
3/28 – 4/2039.6%31.3%29.2%31.3%31.3%37.5%
6/21 – 7/2443.9%28.1%28.1%36.8%38.6%24.6%
7/25 – 8/1548.0%24.0%28.0%34.0%40.0%26.0%
8/16 – 8/2629.2%41.7%29.2%50.0%33.3%16.7%

Judge has played only nine games and accumulated 39 plate appearances since August 16th, but it certainly appears that his adjustment at the plate has finally gotten him right after an extended slump. The Yankees will need this version of Aaron Judge if they’re going to make a run in the 2019 postseason. Here’s one last clip from August 20th where Joakim Soria serves one up to Judge, who can punctuate this article much better than I ever could.

2 thoughts on “Aaron Judge Turns It Around

  1. pwehaps the simplest explanation is that Judge returned while not fully healed and now has started to feel better and is again returning to form

    Like

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