The narrative surrounding Yankees rookie slugger Aaron Judge has taken a dramatic turn over the last six weeks. For the first few months of the season, his record-setting home run pace dominated the headlines. That was further fueled by his victory in the Home Run Derby. Since then, the focus has shifted to Judge’s strikeout numbers as he zeroed in on a dubious MLB record.
In Wednesday’s 5-3 win against the New York Mets, we saw both sides of Judge’s game. In the fourth inning, he wowed the Citi Field crowd by launching his 37th home run into the third deck in deep left-center field.
The epic solo homer left the bat at 117 mph and traveled an estimated 457 feet according to Statcast, though we wonder if the metrics might have short-changed him this time around.
Aaron Judge's homer landed HERE. pic.twitter.com/PmDC79p9gq
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 17, 2017
Regardless, the homer moved him one closer to Mark McGwire’s MLB record for a rookie. McGwire cranked 49 home runs in 1987, meaning Judge needs 12 more to tie and 13 to break the mark over the Yankees final 43 games. Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers is also making a run with his 34 homers.
That’s the upside of Judge’s game. As we mentioned, we also saw the downside. With his ninth inning strikeout against Erik Goeddel, Judge officially extended his streak to 33 games with at least one strikeout. That topped the previous single-season mark for a position player set by Adam Dunn back in 2012. Dunn’s overall streak actually extends to 36 games if you include the final week of the 2011 season.
Over the duration of his streak, Judge has struck out 55 times in 113 at-bats, while hitting a paltry .191. That includes his 2-for-5 on Wednesday, which marked his first multi-hit game since July 18. As a result, he’s seen his average dip from .330, which for a time had him in contention for the triple crown, to .291. That’s still pretty good for a homer heavy hitter, but in the context of his season it’s quite a fall.
Of course, strikeouts were a big part of Judge’s game too when he was launching home runs left and right. His near 30-percent strikeout rate during the first half was eight-percent higher than the league average. But this extended slump isn’t just about strikeouts. It’s about weaker than usual contact and less productive at-bats in between the homers and strikeouts, which further highlights a batter searching for answers.
This stretch also puts him on pace to challenge another dubious record: the overall single-season strikeout record. Judge was on pace to strikeout 219 times coming into Wednesday’s game. Mark Reynolds holds the MLB record with 223 in 2009.
Judge’s struggles have had a profound impact on the Yankees offense, which should come as no surprise. During the first half they had the second most runs scored in the AL. Since the All-Star break, they’ve scored the third fewest in the AL.
The Yankees will deal with the strikeouts knowing the power potential that Judge brings. But they’re going to need more production and soon in the at-bats that fall between home run and strikeout.
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