The Yankees have a budding superstar on their hands, and he may be the first of more to come as the Baby Bombers develop themselves into full-fledged major league ballplayers. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge is having an undisputed All-Star year in 2017. Eighteen home runs, 41 runs driven in, and 44 runs scored is nothing to sneeze at. And if a vote were held today for Most Valuable Player in the American League, Judge would easily fill the number one or number two slot along with Mike Trout.
Soon, if not already, there’s going to be a huge sign hung on the back of #99 that reads, “Do not let this guy beat you!”
Baseball, as we know, is a game of adjustments. And when you look back at the stats put up by Judge in 2016 before he was injured, his game is completely different now from what it was then.
He was striking out at the rate of almost 50 percent (42-98), and there was little of the power that he is currently displaying (4 HR’s, 10 RBI).
Judge made the adjustments he needed to make to turn that around. He’s become more selective at the plate, and the result has been a reduction in his strikeout rate to one out of four times, plus 34 bases on balls, half of which at least would have been strikeouts last season when he was chasing pitches out of the zone.
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However, soon, if not already though, there’s going to be a huge sign hung on the back of #99 that reads, “Do not let this guy beat you!”
Pitchers, unlike hitter, have a fraternity. And within that club, they share information freely about opposing hitters. I got him out this way, with this pitch on this count. And so on.
Pitchers will make adjustments to what Aaron Judge is doing and then it will be incumbent on Judge to adjust to those before another round of changes begins.
Aaron Judge has made the adjustment once. Now, he needs to do it again, and yet again after that.
I believe that the pitchers are already making the changes and that Judge has yet to respond, at least in the power department.
His batting average is steady in the .320’s, and he is still managing to hit the ball with authority, but not in the air as much as he was a few weeks ago.
Here’s a look at Aaron Judge home run by home run in 2017. On May 20, he had fifteen home runs. Three weeks later, he has only three more, and two of those came on back to back days in late May against the A’s and the Orioles.
Is this a crisis? Of course not. But it’s meant to show that the remainder of the season is not going to be a cakewalk for Aaron Judge. And those seventy something home runs we were talking about a month ago is not going to happen.
The cameo appearance by Shane Spencer
In September of 1998, the Yankees added a young man named Shane Spencer, a player who had spent nine seasons toiling in the minors, to their roster. Pinstripe Alley records his numbers as follows:
"The 14 regular season September games that Spencer spent in the big leagues with the Yankees in ’98 saw the Yankees only lose three times. Spencer lit the baseball world on fire with a .421/.476/1.105 batting line that included three grand slams, eight home runs, and five go-ahead hits. He reached base in eight consecutive games and strung together a six-game hitting streak."
That was it, and by the 2006 season, Spencer had journeyed to the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets, before he was finally cut by the team he was playing for in Japan.
Let’s get real
His journey has just begun and comparisons to someone like Giancarlo Stanton, at this point, is unfair to both players, and Judge would be the first to agree with that.
If Judge can hit .290 with 30-35 home runs and 110-120 RBI for each of his next fifteen seasons, he will finish his career with Mantle-like numbers and be well on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame and a day at Yankee Stadium like Derek Jeter recently had.
But we’re not doing Judge any favors with talk like that now. To his credit, Judge has all but ignored all the talk about his leading the American League in All-Star votes.
Instead, he appears to be adopting a Jeter-like approach to baseball and looking only at the game scheduled to be played that night and his four at-bats in that game.
Besides, he’s got other things to worry and be concerned about, beginning with the fact that pitchers will soon, if not already, be ganging up on him.
Aaron Judge has made the adjustment once. Now, he needs to do it again. And each time he adjusts to the adjustments made against him, it only gets easier. And that’s how superstars are created.
In the Yankees storied history, twenty-five of their home runs stand out as moments in time never to be forgotten and always treasured by baseball fans.
Let’s keep cheering him on at the same time we realize how difficult the task is that lies ahead of him. Judge is not the meteor in the sky that Shane Spencer was. But neither is he quite the Superstar we are hoping he will be down the road.