Even in the midst of a playoff race, the New York Yankees need to endure the growing pains of rookie rightfielder Aaron Judge.
Although Aaron Judge’s promotion generated far more buzz, the big man has been unable to compete with fellow Yankees rookie Gary Sanchez‘s historic start to his career. Sanchez has taken to the majors like a fish to water, while Judge still looks like he’s doing the doggy paddle.
Coming into Tuesday night, Judge is hitting .196/.283/.370 (74 wRC+) through his first 53 big league plate appearances. After hitting home runs in each of his first two career games, he’s gone the next 12 without going deep.
Slumps happen, and it’s really easy to over analyze the results of 14 games. Judge hasn’t been terrible by any means. He’s shown excellent plate discipline, drawing walks in 9.4% of his at bats. The biggest red flag is definitely the strikeouts, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given Judge’s minor league numbers.
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Judge has struck out in 41.5%% of his plate appearances since his promotion, which is undeniably ugly. That number needs to come down if he’s going to be a big league hitter. That’s Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds territory. You don’t want to be in that club.
However, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic with Judge. After his terrible first Triple-A stint in 2015 where he struck out 28.5% of the time and slashed .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+), Judge reportedly put in extra work last offseason at the Yankees minor league complex, focusing on pitch recognition after especially struggling with breaking pitches.
The Yankees coaching staff added a leg kick to help with Judge’s timing and raised his hands. Those changes helped make Judge the best power hitter in the International League this season, as he hit .270/.366/.489 (147 wRC+) with 19 home runs in 410 plate appearances. Most importantly, he lowered his strikeout rate by almost 5% to a much more acceptable 23.9%.
He’s universally recognized as one of the hardest workers in the organization. Whatever needs to be done to get Judge to succeed in the major leagues, he will put in the effort to make those improvements.
Strikeouts are always going to be a part of Judge’s game given his size. He just needs to work on getting that 41.5% down into the 20-25% range. For the record, Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn’t worried, telling beat reporter Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media:
"I believe he’s going to make the right adjustments. We might see some strikeouts but I think he’s going to make the adjustments and be very productive."
With the Yankees pushing their way back into the postseason hunt, it will be tempting to cut down on playing time for the youngsters who are working on adapting to the big leagues, but that would be a mistake. These lessons are invaluable for guys like Judge and Tyler Austin. New York should commit to sinking or swimming with them this year so they can reap the benefits in the future.