Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge was exceptional in the first half of the season, reaching metrics rarely seen in the game. Unfortunately for Judge and the Yankees, the second half has been less kind at the plate.
Anatomy of the slide
The strikeouts are mounting - Judge has at least one strikeout in 37 straight games - to set a Major League record. Striking out is one thing and surely to be expected of power hitters, but they are coming without consistent power of any sort, let alone home runs.
In the first half of the season, Judge blasted 30 home runs and struck out 107 times in 84 games. That's one home run for every 3.56 strikeouts and 1.27 strikeouts per game. In the second half, Judge (35 games) has seven homers and 58 strikeouts for a ratio of one homer for every 8.28 strikeouts and 1.71 strikeouts per game.
Judge's slash line has gone from .329/.448/.691 in the first half to .169/.329/.355 in the second half. Judge's batting average with runners in scoring position (95 plate appearances) in the first half was .305 with 36 RBIs and in the second half it has been dismal (.143 with nine RBIs in 40 plate appearances).
Delving deeper, Judge has seen his hard hit rate drop dramatically from the first half (49 percent) to the second half (33.8 percent) and line drive rate is down to 20.6 percent from 24.5 percent. Not all the contact rates are bad and Judge's soft hit rate is down from 12.2 percent to 10.3 percent. Judge's opposite field contact has increased in the second half to 36.8 percent from 25.5 percent from and his ground ball rate has decreased from 38.0 percent to 30.9 percent. Finally, Judge is walking at a rate of 18.8 percent in the second half while it was 16.7 percent in the first half.
Beyond the hitting statistics, one issue that popped up this past weekend were some indiscretions from Judge in the field. Twice, the Red Sox deked Judge into a nonchalant throw into the infield on a fly out where the base runners, who made it seem as though they were not going to try to advance, were able to easily take the next base. It would seem that Judge has potentially allowed the funk at the plate into his play in the field.
Fans and media have been wondering if the Yankees will make any changes with Judge beyond the work he does in the batting cages and in front of video equipment to analyze his swing. With all this data accessible (and more) to the Yankees what are the options?
This seems to be the method that Yankees manager Joe Girardi has decided to employ. It's evident that Girardi is confident in Judge's ability to continue to draw walks and the big man's attempts to hit the ball the other way -- a decent indication that his approach is solid -- would allow him to break out. This isn't to say that Girardi isn't concerned, but he believes the best way out of a slump is to fight through it.
The most drummed up suggestion is that Judge could simply use some time off. The premise to provide time off portends a period for Judge to completely clear his head and hopefully come back rested in body/mind and ready to turn the slump around. The Yankees have an off day Monday, so this suggestion would be at least one more day off Tuesday before getting Judge back in the lineup.
Drop in the batting order
Another option would be to put less pressure on Judge by hitting him further down in the batting order. At the moment, Judge has occupied the third spot in the lineup, typically reserved for the club's best hitter. He has obviously been far from that since the middle of July, so the notion seems to make a good deal of sense for Judge's sake and for the team's which needs an overall offensive boost.
Both time off and drop in the order
The combination of days off and a drop in the batting order is the other speculative fix for Judge's ailments and would be the ultimate change compared with the current status quo. In this scenario, Judge will have at least two days off and be slotted into a less demanding spot in the batting order. Potentially, the combination of some head-clearing plus diminished pressure out of the prime spot in the batting order could aid Judge.
I'm of the volition that Judge could use both the time off and a drop in the batting order. I would strongly suggest the Yankees give Judge at least Tuesday off, and preferably Wednesday, thus missing two games. I'm not a fan of a DH day because all Judge would do in that instance is think about his at-bats.
Further, I would propose dropping Judge down to the fifth or even sixth spot in the order whenever he returned. Keeping him in any of the prime locations in the order should be given a rest until he begins to show some consistent results. The Yankees could move Gary Sanchez into the No. 3 hole for the time being, leave Didi Gregorius in the cleanup spot and place Chase Headley into the No. 5 spot if Judge hits sixth. Otherwise, Judge could hit in the No. 5 spot if Girardi does not want to bring anyone else in a typical run production spot.
Of all the options, the one being used by Girardi has simply run its course. Hopefully Girardi will soften his stance and minimally select one of the options that provide a chance of pace for Judge. At this point, can it hurt?