In 2017 Aaron Judge Became The New Single Season Strikeout King
When Aaron Judge makes contact with a baseball it can be an breathtaking sight. His home runs are the definition of tape measure shots, some balls traveling 500 feet or more. Not since Mickey Mantle has a ballplayer hit such long distance bombs with such regularity.
When Aaron Judge doesn’t make contact, the big swing breeze he creates can cool off fans in the first ten rows near the dugouts. And Judge’s propensity for striking out in 2017 was prodigious.
Last season Judge struck out 236 times, 208 strikeouts in the regular season and 28 times in the postseason establishing a new major league record for most total strikeouts in a season. No news outlet bothered to point this out.
Granted, Judge’s strikeout record gets an asterisk because of his postseason participation.
Mark Reynolds still holds the regular season strike out record with 223 whiffs in 2009.
While no one is faulting a player who hit 52 home runs in his rookie season, as good as Judge is, he is capable of being a much, much better hitter – not just a slugger. The key: he’s got to cut down on the strikeouts.
I like Aaron Judge the man. He comes across in interviews as an old-time Yankee, the sort of star player who says the right things and does not get caught up in the hype that surrounds him. Judge’s composure during his frustrating cold streaks during 2017 were admirable. If Judge despaired during his slumps he never let on, at least publicly. When Judge speaks about doing whatever is best for the team he makes it sound sincere.
In the course of setting a new major league record of at least one strikeout in 37 consecutive games, Judge was stoic and confident he would return to form. Judge never lost his perspective on working through the bad spell. “I have to keep grinding and working. You know the results will come,” he said. “If I feel good in the box and feel ready to compete, good things will happen.” Eventually Judge worked through his troubles and ended the regular season on a high note setting a record for most home runs by a rookie.
I’d like Judge the player better if he hit a dozen fewer home runs, boosted his batting average by 20 or 30 points and reduced his strikeouts to under 150. Then his value to the Yankees and as a team player would soar.
As we’ve pointed out previously, strikeouts are completely unproductive outs and strikeouts are on the rise. It makes no sense to swing from your heels when your team is down 6-0 and you need base runners. But it seems many players are incapable of changing their swings to what the situation calls for. Most modern sluggers don’t care to make adjustments. Judge is different and he is capable. Not that Judge will ever be as discerning as Ted Williams or Lou Gehrig, but Judge has a discriminating eye and can be a more productive player if he works at it. When he cuts down his swing, he has shown an ability to make solid contact and drive the ball hard to all fields.
Looking at Judge’s regular season strikeouts in 2017, 63 of them were looking and 145 were swinging. In the postseason Judge struck out 20 times swinging and 8 times on called third strikes. All year Judge looked bad when fooled by curveballs and sliders breaking in or away from him usually low in the zone.
The point is, is that Judge rarely was called out on third strikes that were undeniable strikes. Most of his caught looking strikes were questionable due to the very large expanded strike zone with his six foot seven inch frame and non-crouch batting stance. When he’s going well he doesn’t chase those bad out of the strike zone curves. The man has shown he has a good eye.
This season Judge will be wedged around Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez, giving him significant protection in the Yankee line-up. This depth should afford Judge to be even more patient and selective with his swings. Cutting down on his strikeouts, even at the risk of hitting fewer home runs will not just benefit Judge, but the whole team. If Judge can reduce the strikeouts and drive the ball without swinging for the fences, he will develop into a more complete ballplayer. If that happens the future records Judge sets will not be so ignoble.