Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Aaron Judge left the batters box Thursday night in the first, seventh and ninth innings under identical circumstances: He'd been caught looking all three times as part of an 0-for-5 night.
In the first, umpire Tom Hallion made a pitcher-friendly call, ringing up Judge on a low fastball out of the strike zone. In the seventh Judge took slider in the middle of the zone. In the ninth, it was a fastball inside -- not technically a strike, but perhaps a bit too close to take on 3-2.
Over the past month, Judge's deep slump has been the lone drag on a Yankees offense that has otherwise rolled through the summer. He's the team's best player, but he's batting .148 over his past 21 games, and slugging .370 in the second half.
As evidenced by the three at-bats described above, however, the one mistake that Judge is not making is expanding the zone and chasing pitches. Similar to the Mets' Pete Alonso, who continued to get on base during his own post-All Star slump, Judge has posted a .373 OBP during the second half.
Drill a little deeper, and we see that his walk rate since the break is 16.3 percent, almost identical to his career mark of 16.6 percent. During the second half last year, Judge's walk rate was 13.3 percent.
This is a positive indicator of Judge's chances to break out of his slump. When hitters start chasing and trying to force their way back into being productive, they forget their approaches and make matters worse. Judge's at-bats have at least remained calm and in control.
Of course, he's not paid to walk, and there's a fine line between being selective and reluctant. But Judge's lack of desperation does help to validate the claims by him and his manager that the slump is not as severe or alarming as it seems, and will end before long.
After Thursday's 19-5 spanking by Cleveland, Aaron Boone alluded to the pitches that Judge declined to swing at, and continued to express confidence in his star.
"I thought he took some close pitches that kind of didn't go his way on a couple of them," Boone said. "I know he had some good work before the game. As I said last night, the game's hard. Over the course of the season, it gets the greatest of players, which certainly Judgey is. I'm confident he'll grind his way through it and hopefully soon."
Another recent problem for Judge has been his inability to capitalize on pitches that do arrive in the middle of the strike zone. Meatballs that he typically drives over the right field wall have lately been foul balls.
"Yeah, it's an issue," Judge said Thursday night. "I get pitches on the corners and sometimes a little bit off, and very rarely get one down the middle. When I do, I've got to make sure I do damage on it. When your mechanics or timing are a little off, you miss those."
There's no doubt that Judge is off. He's working on those aforementioned mechanics every day in the batting cage, and on Thursday he expanded those efforts to an early batting practice session on the field.
But there's a difference between off and lost, and Judge appears to be on the right side of that divide.