New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge ranks among the best players in the major leagues, even with struggles that lasted for one-third of the year. His achievements made the 2017 season a great time to be a fan of the power-hitting rookie.
Judge won the Home Run Derby. He will almost certainly win American League Rookie of the Year. And he could take home baseball’s top individual honor. It has been some kind of season. "All Rise" is Judge's nickname, and people do so when they watch him for good reason.
Judge might have stolen the MVP award away from Jose Altuve with his late run at season’s end. Judge is hitting .385/.521/1.115 with 11 home runs, 24 RBIs and 19 runs scored in his last 16 games.
That came immediately after a 55-game stretch after the All-Star break in which Judge slumped, hitting .185 with 11 home runs (though with a .353 on-base percentage thanks to 49 walks).
Or to look at it another way: Judge had more than twice as many home runs in September (14) as he had from the start of the All-Star Break until the end of August (seven).
Best among rookies
Judge broke Mark McGwire’s rookie record for home runs, which McGwire set when he hit 49 for the 1987 Athletics.
Judge put up amazing numbers against the Orioles this season. He hit .426 with a .588 on-base percentage and 1.049 slugging percentage, with 11 home runs and 24 RBIs in 19 games.
The 11 home runs are the most by any player against the Orioles since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1953. It’s one shy of the most hit against that franchise, a mark shared by baseball legends Lou Gehrig (1931 Yankees) and Hank Greenberg (1946 Tigers).
The team that most had his number was the Red Sox. Judge hit .151 with 30 strikeouts in 19 games against them. He was 0-for-12 with 10 strikeouts against Red Sox ace (and Cy Young candidate) Chris Sale.
Judge hit 33 home runs at home this season, passing Babe Ruth (1921) for the most hit by a Yankees player in his home ballpark. Ruth played his home games that season at the Polo Grounds.
What he does best
Judge thrives on pitchers when they make mistakes. He’s hit 32 home runs on pitches in the middle-third of the strike zone, height-wise. His 1.022 slugging percentage in at-bats that end with those pitches is the highest in the majors.
When he struggles
Judge has had issues with two pitch patterns this season: up around the eyes, followed by low-and-away, and vice versa.
Sliders (and cutter-slider hybrid pitches) gave Judge a lot of trouble as the year went along.
He hit .232 with 16 hits in at-bats ending with a slider before the All-Star Break. He missed on 45 percent of his swings.
But he’s hitting .076 with four hits against those pitches since the break. His miss rate is 56 percent post-break.
But there is a positive to go with the negative. Judge has significantly cut back on how often he chases pitches out of the strike zone, dropping it from 30 percent in 2016 to 23 percent this season. His rate of missing on any pitch was 43 percent in 2016, but 35 percent in 2017.
He hits them hard
Judge has five of the top six home runs this season in terms of exit velocity. The hardest-hit was 121.1 mph on June 10 against the Orioles, according to Statcast.
Did you know?
Judge has reached base 286 times this season (154 hits, 127 walks, five times hit by pitch). Per the Elias Sports Bureau, only one rookie has reached base that many times in one season over the last 75 years: Kevin Seitzer for the 1987 Royals (289 times).
Also via Elias, Judge would be the first rookie to lead his league in home runs, runs and walks.
Lastly, Judge joins Adam Dunn of the 2012 White Sox as the only players to strike out 200 times and walk 100 times in a season. When Dunn did it, he had a .204 batting average. Judge hit .284.