The Yankees are in a race for the post season and Aaron Judge is racing history. So what can we expect in the final 76 games?
So far, Judge has been the headliner of the 2017 baseball season. With his prodigious blasts and his humble demeanor, Judge has captured the attention of the sporting public but his popularity is transcending the sport. The general public loves a star. To do what he’s doing in the Yankee pinstripes, it stirs memories of some of the all time greats that have worn the heralded uniform.
Excuse the pun, but Judge’s rise to stardom has been stunning to say the least. No one, not even the Yankees, expected Judge to perform like this.
Can he keep it up? Of course that remains to be seen but Judge will have to clear some hurdles if he’s going to live up to the expectations (that have soared) for the remainder of the season.
In 1987, Mark McGwire lit the baseball world on fire with 33 home runs before the All Star Break. McGwire slowed up somewhat in the second half and hit 16 more to finish with a rookie record 49 home runs. Judge may experience a similar ride.
It’s apparent that as the season goes on, opposing pitchers have gotten a little bit of a “book” on Judge, but it hasn’t been a best seller. To his credit, he has already made a slew of adjustments but he’ll need to make some more.
Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna seems to have found the right formula to pitch the Yankee slugger. In five career at-bats, Judge has struck out four times against the Jays hard throwing right hander and is 0 for 5.
Last week, Osuna struck out Judge with two out and the tying run on first to preserve Toronto’s 7-6 win. After the game, I was in the media scrum with Osuna and asked him how he went about getting Judge out in that spot. Opposing pitchers don’t always like to tell the media how they “work” a batter to get him out but I figured I’d try. To my surprise, he gave me some insight when he said, “For me, he’s kinda a low ball hitter so you have to show him something up and then go back down.”
Changing the “eye level” is something you may see pitchers try on Judge. A National League scout said word will get around. “Other pitchers will try elevating on him now”, said the scout, who works American League games.
Judge may have already gotten a taste of what’s to come when he faced Nationals ace Max Scherzer in the All Star game for a six-pitch at-bat. Scherzer, who was facing Judge for the first time, threw a slider for a strike in the lower part of the zone and then got Judge to foul off a fastball upstairs on the first two offerings.
He missed badly outside with a fastball on the third pitch and then tried to get Judge to bite upstairs with another heater that evened the count at 2-2. On the fifth pitch, Scherzer missed with a slider to run the count full before getting Judge to swing and miss at another slider. The two-time Cy Young winner had changed the “eye level” within the at-bat. To Judge’s credit, he extended the plate appearance after being down 0-2 but you can bet that if any opposing pitchers were watching on television, they picked up on how Scherzer pitched Judge.
On MLB Network, Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez offered Judge a back-handed compliment when he said, “He’s having a feast on immature pitchers.” Pedro was referring to Judge getting a lot of good pitches to hit and that he’s not missing them, but intimating that it may get a little tougher in the second half.
Judge is a unique talent and what’s to say he won’t be a .300 and 40 HR player throughout his career. According to the NL scout, Judge is not your typical major league slugger. “His ability to not hit the ball square and still put it in the bleachers is something pitchers will have to live with, no matter what they come up with in trying to solve this beast.”
At the All Star game, Judge admitted he was “tired.” The young man has a lot on his plate. Will Judge be able to keep producing at the level that he established for himself in the first half. A key to his success will depend on what’s happening around him in the lineup, both before and after.
As far as the Rookie of the Year award, Judge is playing with house money because it would be a shock if he did not win it. What will be exciting to watch is how he performs during the dog days and down the stretch in September.
Aaron Judge has helped provide a much needed “jolt” for the sport. He’s good for baseball. Let’s hope it continues.