Yankees’ Aaron Judge is breaking out of his slump

May 3, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) gestures to fans after the Yankees defeated the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have been off to a fine start in 2024. Sitting comfortably in second place in the American League with a 25-14 record, the Yankees have transformed their offense into a well-oiled machine that continues to produce runs with the best of them, currently ranking third in the league in home runs (51), fifth in OPS (.748), and sixth in runs (188).

Despite newly acquired superstar outfielder Juan Soto being front and center of the Yankees offensive production this season, he hasn’t been the only hot contributor, with the likes of Alex Verdugo, Anthony Volpe, Anthony Rizzo, and Oswaldo Cabrera all performing above expectations.

However, the one Yankee many thought would be dominating side-by-side with Soto but hasn’t so far is that of Aaron Judge. In 100 at-bats over April, Judge hit .220 to go with a .361 OPB, 6 home runs, and 17 RBIs. Currently ranked second on the Yankees in strikeouts (46), Judge hasn’t looked like the offensive menace this fanbase and team is accustomed to seeing, leaving some concerned about his production moving forward.

In case some of you forgot, Judge signed a mammoth-sized, 9-year, $360 million dollar contract in 2023, earning a base salary of $40 million per year. And after coming off a quieter season last year following his record-breaking performance in 2022, it’s understandable why some are worried about the 32-year-old, who many thought would have a much better start than he’s had so far.

Ultimately, this poses two big questions: The first is should fans be worried about Judge’s production? While the second is what can Judge do to bounce back as the season carries on? If these questions intrigue your curiosity just as much as ours, here’s a look at our breakdown on what we see unfolding with Aaron Judge moving forward.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees, aaron judge, anthony rizzo
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees need Judge to bounce back

The biggest question coming out of the gate is to what extent will Judge improve? Judge has been around in the MLB for eight-plus seasons (including his 27-game rookie start in 2016). Over that time frame, fans and experts alike have witnessed his ability to be a high-volume base hit producer, whether his hits resulted in home runs or not.

Over his record-breaking season in 2022, Judge produced a stellar .311 average. Even prior to that, Judge hit .287 in 2021, .278 in 2018, and .284 over that big AL Rookie of the Year performance in 2017. Though the general rule of thumb in baseball is not to get too caught up about batting average, Judge hasn’t been known to let his hitting slide to such a low degree, even for a power hitter such as himself.

The good news is that Judge has done his homework and worked hard to pull himself out of this mini-slump. In fact, over the month of May so far, Judge is posting a .357 average with a .455 OPB, ten hits, three home runs, and seven RBIs. That’s a great sign, seeing how he struggled early on in April. However, longevity in his success is key, and once Judge gets on a roll, very little tends to slow him down.

Come the All-Star break, we can expect Judge to be back in form with a batting average over .260 and a 20-60+ HR to RBI stat line to marvel at.

What does Judge need to do in order to be better?

Judge isn’t in that big of a slump here and has performed quite well so far throughout the month of May. However, he’s currently struggling with a variety of key aspects of his hitting that should he improve in, would allow him to dominate into the All-Star break and onward.

The first and foremost aspect to understand about Judge’s hitting is that he dominates fastball pitching. But the type of pitches that have been difficult for Judge to hit this season, are breaking and off-speed. In fact, Judge’s batting average against breaking pitches in 65 plate appearances is .182, while he only has a .200 average to show for against off-speed pitches in 12 plate appearances.

As a result, his average against sliders, curveballs, and changeups is .200 or lower, which isn’t a recipe for sustained success in a league that’s home to plenty of breaking and off-speed pitching. To improve that, Judge has to work on his pitch reads and discipline himself to stay back on these types of pitches, which he tends to be early on.

In addition, Judge’s barrel percentage this year is significantly lower than his last two seasons, and that has to improve (even for contact purposes). In 2022, Judge’s barrel percentage was 26.5 while last year he finished with a 27.5 rating. This season in 38 games played, Judge only has a 16.7-barrel percentage, which hurts his exit velocity and launch angle.

Lastly, Judge has to be a bit more aggressive at the plate and for a couple of reasons. To begin with, he’s not taking enough first-pitch swings, and that’s sometimes when pitchers slip up the most with heaters or hangers down the plate. Judge’s first pitch swing percentage was 33.0 last season — this year, he’s only swinging at first pitches 29.4 percent of the time, which isn’t helping his case.

Secondly, Judge has done a nice job refraining from chasing pitches, particularly ones very close or just along the strike zone. That being said, that’s also cost him some painful strikeouts when deciding to leave it to the umpires. It’s key that Judge doesn’t expand the strike zone any bigger than it needs to be. However, if he’s going to improve his strikeout rate and up his hitting, Judge will have to go after some of those pitches just around the edges of the strike zone, particularly when he’s dealing with umpires that will call anything close.

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