If you’re anything like me, you really hate getting your hopes up. Especially when it comes to the unprecedented rise of a player on your favorite team. So when an absolute star like Aaron Judge graces the Bronx with his presence, you need to ask yourself: is this too good to be true?
Judge got off to one of the most prolific starts to a career in the entire history of baseball. It’s one thing when a team’s top prospect rises quickly, but when it’s a guy without the biggest expectation’s, the certainty of the longevity of their success can be doubted.
Judge was no scrub in the Minors, don’t get me wrong. He was the Yankees’ no. 4 prospect in 2016, and in his final season with Triple-A affiliate Scranton-Wilkes Barre, he hit .270 and got on base 36.6 percent of the time. He hit 19 home runs and drove in 65 runs. Respectable, but certainly not overwhelming.
He was called up at the end of 2016 while the team was trying to make a late push to steal a playoff spot. Judge had 84 plate appearances and struck out in exactly half of them. Sure, you can chalk it up to rookie rust, but it’s not quite the start that would indicate the birth of a superstar’s career. Yet, that’s what happened.
2017 came along and there was a new and improved hitter wearing number 99. Heading into the all-star break, Judge led the league in home runs with 30, to go along with a .329 batting average and a .448 on base percentage. He had a section of seats named after him in Yankee Stadium, and was the hottest name in all of sports.
A New Stance
How was this possible? Was it luck? Was the sky falling? No. The answer is simple. He fixed his swing.
Scott and Andrew had a chance to interview Judge’s hitting coach, Richard Schenck, on the Bronx Pinstripes Show and get some incredible insight into the adjustments Judge made before the start of the 2017 season.
Schenck discovered that by studying Barry Bonds‘ swing, he could apply an approach at the plate that could be valuable for any hitter, no matter their size. “I maximize your ability to apply force into the baseball,” Schenck said.
The swing focuses on a rearward motion of the bat that allows the hitter to load up their power before they decide to swing. This new approach enabled Judge to burst onto the scene and catch the baseball universe by surprise.
But what goes up must come down. Right?
Following the all-star break Judge spiraled into a seemingly never-ending slump. From the break until the end of August, he hit a measly .179 with 67 strikeouts in 179 plate appearances. Twitter began to erupt, Red Sox fans rejoiced, and fear crept into the minds of Yankees fans everywhere.
Slumps happen in baseball, but there was visible difference between Judge’s approach at the plate before and after the break. There was a reason to be concerned, and why fans might still feel the need to be wary of Judge’s future: the man could not hit the ball for over a month and a half.
“After the all-star break and before September, Aaron fell into the 2016 swing and we got him back to the 2017 swing,” said Schenck.
His stance was more open and he was getting fooled in just about a third of his plate appearances. However, he was able to fix the problem. He regained his newfound 2017 swing that allowed him his success in the first place, and quickly became the unfathomable slugger we saw in the first half of the season.
Not only was Judge’s swing back come September, but he had his best month of the season. In just 27 games, he slugged 15 home runs to go along with a .311 batting average. He was crowned Rookie of the Year and finished second in MVP voting. His 52 home runs were also the most by a rookie in history.
While Judge’s rise to superstardom was relatively out of the blue, there is a foundation behind it, other than shear luck. He had a slump, but there was a clear solution to the problem. If you are a Yankees fan, that slump should not still be in your mind heading into the 2018 season.
Oh and by the way, I got through this entire article without even mentioning how much Judge will benefit from having the 2017 home run leader, Giancarlo Stanton, hitting behind him in the lineup. Pitchers will have even less margin for error when dealing to Judge.