Once Thursday comes to an end, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge will have been fully contained for two straight days…by Mother Nature and a scheduled off-day for the club.
No one knew what to expect of Judge in 2017. All he did was go on a marvelous tear through major league pitching staffs, becoming an instant star as he clobbered 30 home runs by the All-Star break.
Unfortunately, the Yankees' slugger fell into a deep summer funk, one that may have been exacerbated by an ailing left shoulder. Judge struck out often while failing to deliver as many productive at-bats to offset the strikeouts, as he managed in the first half.
Judge didn't concede, regained his stroke in September, and produced the same offensive dominance as he had in the first half. As Judge shifted from his 52-homer rookie season into his second full year in the majors, the dreaded "sophomore slump" lurked in the background.
But Judge is clearly bypassing any second-year skid. Despite being slightly off his home run pace from last season, he is nearly matching or beating certain measures from 2017 through his first 41 games this season. Let's review the opening to Judge's historic 2017 campaign and his progress thus far in 2018, both through his first 41 games...
Judge's final month of the 2017 regular season might have clued us in as to what was to come of his 2018 season: Maintaining a steady approach at the plate. While he has not hit as many home runs in the period (he does have twice as many doubles), he has been nearly as productive in terms of runs created. Furthermore, peripheral stats point to a player that has potentially figured out how to maintain success for a long time.
For example, Judge swung at 25.6 percent of pitches outside the zone during the span in 2017, which is down to 22.3 percent in 2018. His ground ball rate was 42.7 percent during the period in 2017, and now it sits at 37.9 percent this season. Judge's hard-hit percentage has dropped ever-so-lightly to 44.2 percent in 2018 from 45.8 percent during the period in 2017.
Regardless, that's still a tremendous rate.
More importantly, in the first 41 games last season, Judge pulled batted balls 47.9 percent of the time, 33.3 percent of balls in play went to center field, while he hit to the opposite field 18.8 percent of the time. Over the same stretch in 2018, those marks in succession stand at 36.8 percent, 33.7 percent and 29.5 percent.
This is an incredible use of the entire field. Add in that he is walking even more in 2018 (admittedly, some of that is pitcher avoidance) as well as striking out at a similar clip, the likelihood for extended success is evident and the chances of a lengthy slide are minimized.
Judge is more than a talented, athletic baseball player. He is a cerebral player, one who seems to understand it is essential to stay ahead of pitchers' game plans against him at the plate. This leads to a player that can limit the duration of an inevitable slump. Judge's inability to adjust quickly was a factor in 2017, and based on what we've seen so far in 2018, he is trying to avoid making same mistake.
So long as Judge continues to make adjustments in his approach as warranted, he should be able to avoid a replication of his 2017 summer swoon, possibly - and amazingly - generating a better second year.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs