Yankees on Aaron Judge's Wild Year: 'If He's Struggling, Everybody's Struggling'

Joon LeeStaff WriterAugust 17, 2017

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge (99) reacts after hitting a fly out during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Aaron Judge has set a lot of records so far this year.

He broke Joe DiMaggio's Yankees team record of 29 homers for a rookie. He set a Statcast record for highest exit velocity by hitting a solo home run off Chris Tillman in June at 121.1 mph. He set the MLB record for most home runs through 25 games in a rookie season.

Judge also broke another record on Wednesday night against the Mets: consecutive games with a strikeout, besting Adam Dunn's MLB record by going down on strikes in 33 straight contests.

The strikeout record represents the icing on the cake for Judge's troubling second half, in which he's hit just .185/.346/.398 while striking out in 46.3 percent of at-bats heading into Wednesday night, up from 36.2 percent in the first half. Judge is going through his first extended struggles this season following a first-half in which he hit .329/.448/.691 with 30 homers, 13 doubles and 66 RBI.

Much of the Yankees' surprising performance in the standings—4.5 games back in the American League East, leading the Wild Card by three games—comes as a result of Judge's strong performance this year. Judge struggled in his first abbreviated stint in the big leagues in 2016. when he hit .179/.263/.345, but he made adjustments to his approach at the plate to fuel a breakout season.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Now, according to Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner, is a critical time for Judge to make adjustments again.

"You don't just make two or three adjustments. You need to continue to make them over the course of the season, and the course of your career," Gardner tells Bleacher Report. "Guys like myself, Matt Holliday and C.C. Sabathia, some veteran minds around the game, can really help the young guys. You talk baseball. It's always good to pick guys' brains about how they would attack certain hitters and where we're going to play on defense and how they would attack us if they were on different teams."

Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner
Aaron Judge and Brett GardnerJoe Robbins/Getty Images

Just as Judge made major changes in the first half to fuel his star turn, pitchers around baseball have come back with tweaks of their own to attack the 6'7", 282-pound outfielder. According to Baseball Savant, pitchers threw Judge fastballs up in the strike zone 10.9 percent of the time in the first half. So far in the second half, that number has jumped to 14.5 percent, with more fastballs thrown up-and-away. Per ESPN.com's Mark Simon, umpires are calling more high pitches as strikes against Judge.

Since the strikeout streak started, Judge is hitting .182, third-worst among 149 players with 100 at-bats. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he's striking out in 39 percent of his plate appearances, second-worst to Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story. Since July 8, Judge has struck out 55 times. Fifteen players who qualify for the batting title, including Dustin Pedroia, Justin Turner, Buster Posey, Andrelton Simmons and Ian Kinsler, have struck out fewer times this entire season.

Multiple teammates expressed little concern to Bleacher Report about Judge finding his way out of his struggles. Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius says that Judge's even-keeled persona and his dedication to getting better will help him bounce back.

"He doesn't have to change. It's a good personality. ... You want him to stay like that," Gregorius says. "You don't want a guy to change. It's just about being himself. He stays mellow, the way he is and handles everything the right way."

Gardner, who played for nearly a decade with Derek Jeter, says he sees a similar day-to-day approach in Judge.

Derek Jeter and Aaron Judge
Derek Jeter and Aaron JudgeAl Bello/Getty Images

"There were times where [Jeter] struggled at the plate, and he would be the first to tell you that you have to block that out and that's one of the great things about baseball," Gardner says. "You may have a rough night the night before, but you've got a chance to come back out the next day and redeem yourself. It's not like football where you may have to wait a week to come back out and try to right the ship."

The Yankees hope Judge can right the ship before the playoffs. In short time, the 25-year-old has become one of the most famous baseball players on the planet and anointed the heir apparent to Jeter as the face of the Bronx Bombers. As currently positioned, the Yankees are prepared to make a run into the postseason, but a significant amount of their success depends on Judge, their lineup linchpin and their best hitter. As he figures out his current struggles, teammates will have to pick up the slack.

"It's a team and not just one guy. If he's struggling, everybody's struggling," Gregorius says. "It's a team, not just one person."