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Analysis

Yankees: Can Aaron Judge Be Getting Even Better?

Aaron Judge is coming off the greatest rookie season in MLB history for the Yankees, but is it possible he could be getting even better?

In 2017, Aaron Judge had a .284 batting average and slugged 52 home runs. There have only been 45 player seasons with 50 home runs or more, and in just 38 of those 50 home run seasons did the player hit .280 or better.

Going into Wednesday Aaron Judge was batting .314, which begs the question: Can he hit .300 and 50 home runs? There have only been 29 seasons in which this feat has been achieved, with the last such season being A-Rod’s 2007 MVP season in which he slugged 54 home runs and batted .314. Judge could become the 30th this year, but how likely is that?

Judge is More Selective

Last year, Judge swung at 41.1% of pitches thrown to him. This year, he’s only swinging at 35.9%. He’s swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone, and fewer pitches outside the zone. You would think that his greater selectivity would lead to more walks, but Judge’s walk percentage is pretty much in line with what it was last year, and he’s actually striking out slightly more.

He’s making a little more contact on swings outside the zone, and a little less contact on swings inside the zone. Does that mean he can hit .300? 

Let’s compare Judge this year to A-Rod in 2007:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
A-Rod 2007 21.8 % 66.2 % 42.8 % 51.8 % 85.2 % 76.2 %
Judge 2018 22.2 % 58.3 % 35.9 % 47.0 % 77.6 % 65.9 %

As you can see, Judge’s contact percentage is only 65.9%, compared to A-Rod’s 76.2%. Judge is even slightly down from last year’s 67.4%. Simply put, fewer balls in play means fewer opportunities for hits. So, while Judge is more selective at the plate than A-Rod was, he’s also striking out a lot more. This doesn’t bold well for his chances of hitting .300.

Judge is Getting Lucky

So why is his batting average higher? BABIP.

Judge is getting pretty lucky on the balls that he’s put in play. His current batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is an otherworldly .448. To put that number in perspective, Ichiro’s highest BABIP in any season was .399. Jose Altuve’s BABIP last year was .370 and he batted .346 overall. Usually, players who put the ball on the ground and have a lot of speed have higher BABIPs. Judge launches the ball in the air and, at 6’7” he’s never going to be known for his speed. So there’s almost no way Judge is going to continue getting this lucky.

In fact, Judge seems to be performing slightly worse than last season. His power is down, as his ISO is .257 compared to last year’s .343. This is probably due to his soft contact percentage jumping from 11.2% to 18.5%. Even so, Judge’s line drive percentage is up his fly ball percentage is down.

(Sample) Size Matters

Now, he’s only had 132 plate appearances this year, so we’re still dealing with a relatively small sample size, but Judge would have to bat .297 the rest of the way to bat .300 (assuming he has the same amount of at bats as last year). That seems highly unlikely given his BABIP and selectivity. Judge is going to have to start putting the ball in play more often to make a run at .300 and he’s going to have to start making harder contact and hitting more fly balls to hit 50 home runs again.

 

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