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How umpires have possibly thrown a wrench into Aaron Judge’s progress

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The dog days of summer have yet to be kind to Aaron Judge, as the Yankees’ rookie has endured a wretched (yet ordinary) month-long hitting slump since the All-Star break. Thus far his first full major league season has been the strangest tale of two halves, comprised of MVP caliber numbers and failure — simply due to a lack of experience. For a 25-year-old of his stature and early acclaim, it’s difficult to compare Judge’s campaign to any other player’s, as he’s already encountered baseball’s peaks and valleys.

But don’t assume that Judge’s incessant chase of high fastballs and low off-speed breaking balls are the only root to his latest woes. Believe it or not, baseball’s umpires have played a role in this quandary because they’ve impacted Judge’s at-bats as well.

According to ESPN Stats & Info research which analyzed locations where pitches are called strikes at least 15 percentage points above the expected rate, Judge’s strikezone has been significantly altered during the second half, with high pitches being called strikes more often than low ones. Before the Midsummer Classic, ESPN’s research suggests the exact opposite, as home plate umpires were focused on calling strikes across Judge’s lower half.  Of course, slumps are inevitable, regardless of how talented a player is, and the amount of success a player attains is largely based on his ability to adapt and make adjustments. But for Judge — a 6-foot-7, 285-pound behemoth with a historically large strikezone — perhaps this fix takes longer than what’s expected. Interested in glancing at those heatmaps? Click on the ESPN link.

Research also offers a few statistics to back up its heatmaps. For example, during the first half (84 games), umpires called 13 pitches strikes against Judge in the upper-third area of the strike zone, while in the second half the number of pitches called against him is already at 11 — in just 27 games.

Entering Sunday, Judge — who’s hit .161 (15-of-93) with 43 strikeouts, five homers and 12 RBI since the break — is just three games shy of tying Adam Dunn’s all-time record for the most consecutive games with a strikeout by a position player (32). Based on projections it appears that Judge will soon claim that dubious honor. But if the heatmap offers valid insight on how unique Judge’s setbacks have been, maybe there’s reason to refrain from denigrating a player who’s unequivocally made an all-around impact on the Yankees in 2017.

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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