Aaron Judge Is Slumping No More

John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

When we last checked in on Aaron Judge on April 24, the big slugger was scuffling, hitting just .180/.315/.348 through the Yankees’ first 24 games. He had homered just three times, and was approximating league-average production thanks mainly to his 15.7% walk rate. A smattering of fans had booed him on his own bobblehead day at Yankee Stadium, when he struck out in all four plate appearances, and the haters on social media were sure that he was washed. Since then, he’s turned his season around in emphatic fashion, destroying opponents’ pitching, taking his place atop a few key leaderboards, and helping New York assemble the AL’s best record at 42-19.

Judge homered three times in a three-game series against the Giants at Oracle Park this past weekend while helping the Yankees to a sweep. It was the Linden, California native’s first time playing at the park of his favorite childhood team, and the ballpark he would have called home had Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner’s last-ditch effort to re-sign him in December 2022 not succeeded. He went yard twice off Jordan Hicks in Friday night’s 6-2 win, first with a three-run shot and later a solo one, then connected off Logan Webb for a two-run blast in a 7-3 win on Saturday; the 464-foot projected distance on that one made it his third-longest of the season. He merely went 2-for-3 with two singles, two walks, and two steals in Sunday’s 7-5 win, with Juan Soto filling the power vacuum by homering twice.

Judge is now hitting .288/.417/.658, leading the majors in slugging percentage home runs (21), wRC+ (198), and WAR (4.0); he’s also in a virtual tie with Soto for the AL lead in on-base percentage. On Monday, he was named the AL Player of the Month, his seventh time winning that honor and his third consecutive May doing so. In terms of both slugging percentage and wRC+, May was the best calendar month of his career:

Aaron Judge’s Best Calendar Months
Month Season PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
May 2024 122 .361 .479 .918 277
Sept/Oct 2022 136 .380 .533 .790 261
May 2023 97 .342 .474 .882 252
July 2022 112 .333 .446 .806 250
Sept/Oct 2017 121 .311 .463 .889 235
June 2017 133 .324 .481 .686 206
Aug 2022 119 .289 .458 .633 204
Mar/April 2017 90 .303 .411 .750 199
May 2022 119 .311 .378 .699 198
May 2017 111 .347 .441 .642 188
Minimum 75 plate appearances. Yellow = career high.

Judge’s 14 homers in May was one shy of his career high, set in September 2017. (He did not play in the team’s October 1 season finale.) Even that line undersells the rampage he’s been on, because he’s stretched a similarly strong performance across another 53 plate appearances. Here’s the split since my April 24 article:

Aaron Judge Not-Quite-Arbitrary Endpoint Splits
Through April 23 108 3 .180 .315 .348 95
Since April 24* 164 18 .362 .485 .869 267
Total 272 21 .288 .417 .658 198
* = date of publication of “A Look at Aaron Judge’s Season-Opening Slump.”

That .869 SLG — which Judge actually matched in two overlapping spans, the first one beginning on April 23 and running through June 1 — is his highest mark for a 37-game stretch, surpassing an .840 mark in a wraparound stretch from September 9, 2017 to April 19, 2018, or an .824 mark for July 14 to August 26 in 2022 if we’re limiting spans to single-season ones. Meanwhile his 1.354 OPS is the highest of any such span, outdoing a 1.346 mark from August 19 to September 30 in 2022.

By those measures, this stretch of nearly a quarter of a season is as good as Judge has ever been. His rolling wOBA on a 100-plate appearance basis puts this stretch on the podium next to a couple of stretches in 2022:

That said, if we zoom out to a 200-PA basis, his sustained streak from late 2022 carries the day, with this one merely at a level he’s hit a few times:

As with just about everything he does, Judge’s turnaround has been a sight to behold; he crushed the notion that he was no longer elite as though it were a batting practice fastball. The question is how he got to this point given his early-season struggles. In the grand tradition of the Yankees’ previous captain, Derek Jeter, Judge himself hasn’t offered a ton of insight — it’s a long season, he’s got to capitalize on the pitches in the zone, the goal is to win a championship — but the data tells a compelling story in its own right.

Recall that in March, Judge dealt with abdominal discomfort that he attributed to the extra swinging he did in the offseason in an attempt to undo the mechanical compromises that resulted from last year’s toe injury. He underwent an MRI and took some time off from swinging the bat, which included a nine-day hiatus from Grapefruit League games. One theory is that in order to get his swing fully in sync, he may just have needed more repetitions than he was able to get before Opening Day.

During that slump, Judge’s approach at the plate was more tentative. Using that April 23 date as a cutoff — if it’s an arbitrary endpoint, we at least have a detailed set of observations and data surrounding it — Judge is swinging more often since then, and particularly more often at pitches in the zone:

Aaron Judge Plate Discipline Splits
Split O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Con% Z-Con% Con% Zone% SwStr K%
Through April 23 18.6% 64.4% 41.0% 34.1% 80.0% 69.3% 48.8% 12.6% 28.7%
Since April 24 16.4% 70.1% 43.0% 36.4% 79.3% 71.1% 49.6% 12.4% 23.2%

Judge’s swing rate on pitches in the strike zone is up nearly five points since we last checked in. Comparing his rates for the heart of the plate (via Statcast’s attack zones), he was swinging at 74.2% of such pitches before, compared to 79.2% since. Looking at his wOBA splits by Gameday zones — whoa, that’s a lot of red lately:

Mercy. Back to the table above, while Judge’s swinging strike rate is about the same as before, he’s cut his strikeout rate substantially, in part because he’s suddenly become much more dangerous with two strikes. Where he was hitting .118/.262/.235 (55 wRC+) with a 50.8% strikeout rate with two strikes in 61 PA through April 23, he’s hit .232/.357/.594 (167 wRC+) with a 45.2% strikeout rate in 84 PA with two strikes since then; seven of his 18 homers over the latter stretch have come with two strikes.

Shortly before I wrote about Judge in April, MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds played a clip from last year in which the slugger said that he focuses his mindset and mechanics on hitting a line drive at the second baseman’s head. (“I want to take [the second baseman’s] hat off and I want that to keep going into our bullpen” in Yankee Stadium’s right field, which “keeps my bat path clean.”) Here’s a look at his spray chart through April 23:

Note how few hits Judge had in the general direction beyond second base and into right-center field — basically just a double and a homer from an April 3 game against the Diamondbacks — as well as a handful of loud outs. Here’s what he’s done since then:

Singles and doubles and homers, oh my! And not just to right-center. Overall, Judge has been hitting the ball much — much, much, much — harder over the past six weeks than prior, putting up Statcast numbers that are just off the charts:

Aaron Judge Batted Ball Splits
Split GB/FB GB% FB% IFFB% Pull% EV LA Brl% HH%
Through April 23 0.81 37.3% 45.8% 18.5% 33.9% 93.5 19.5 11.9% 47.5%
Since April 24 0.55 29.0% 52.7% 0.0% 41.9% 99.5 17.4 40.4% 72.3%
Total 0.64 32.2% 50.0% 6.6% 38.8% 97.2 18.2 29.4% 62.7%

That second segment is just mind-boggling; Judge is averaging nearly 100 mph off the bat every time, and he’s barreling over 40% of those balls, producing what would be a respectable hard-hit rate for many other players. His overall average exit velo, barrel rate, and hard-hit rates lead the majors, with Soto (95.7 mph, 14% barrel rate, 59.7% hard-hit rate) ranking second in all three categories. And in case you’re wondering, Judge’s season-to-date Statcast numbers are actually ahead of those from his 62-homer campaign in 2022 (95.8 mph, 26.2% barrel rate, 60.9% hard-hit rate).

As you can see from the more traditional batted ball stats in the table, Judge is hitting more balls in the air, and — despite aiming for the opposite field — more to his pull side as well. He’s pulled 10 fly balls since April 24, eight of them for home runs and one for a double, good for a four-digit SLG (3.400) and wRC+ (1121) on such balls. By comparison, he had pulled just two fly balls before April 24, both for homers. Judge is strong enough to crush opposite field dingers, though it doesn’t hurt that he’s got the 314-foot distance down the right field line at Yankee Stadium, where five of his seven oppo tacos have been hit. It’s not as though he’s loading up on cheapies, though; he’s actually one short of his Statcast expected home run total.

With regards to Judge’s dramatic uptick in production, one more area worth exploring is that of bat tracking. This is the first year for which we have public data from Statcast, and while that leaves us in the dark when it comes to year-to-year comparisons, it can provide insights about in-season performance. Using the same cutoff point as before, we do see a notable uptick in a few areas:

Aaron Judge Bat Speed Splits
Split Avg Spd Fast Swing% Squared Up Sw% Blast Swing% Swing Length
Through April 23 76.3 63.7% 18.6% 13.3% 8.1
Since April 24 76.9 76.4% 28.4% 22.8% 8.2
Total 76.7 72.5% 25.3% 19.8% 8.1
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Judge’s overall average bat speed has improved a little since April 24; it’s elite regardless of the split, placing in the 98th percentile overall. What’s more interesting to these eyes is that he’s unleashing his fast swing more often — not a Giancarlo Stanton-esque 97% of the time, but enough to suggest a more aggressive and more confident approach at the plate, just as his higher zone and heart swing rates do; his fast swing rate on heart-zone pitches would rank second only to Stanton, and as it is, he’s fourth overall behind Stanton, Oneil Cruz (73.7%) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (73.1%).

Meanwhile, Judge’s squared up rate (per swing, not per batted ball) — the rate at which he obtains maximum exit velocity for that swing — has improved considerably. While it’s middle-of-the-pack overall, ranking 110th out of 214 qualifiers between the less fearsome likes of Harold Ramírez and Kerry Carpenter, his recent stretch would put him on the fringe of the top quartile. The big step forward has been with his blast rate (also per swing), which is his rate of squared-up balls on fast swings. His rate during his slump would have placed around the 76th percentile, while his more recent rate would lead the majors, ahead of Soto’s 22%; overall, he’s fifth behind Soto, Yandy Díaz (20.8%), William Contreras (20.4%), and Stanton (19.9%).

Two years ago, Judge put together a season for the ages while setting an AL home run record and posting a 209 wRC+, the highest of any post-expansion player besides Barry Bonds. Last year’s injuries threw him off a similar pace. He had 19 homers in 49 games played (63 per 162) but had already missed 10 games due to a right hip strain before tearing a ligament in his right big toe in a June collision with Dodger Stadium’s outfield wall; he finished with 37 homers in 106 games (56 per 162) and a 174 wRC+. Despite his early troubles, his performance this season is now closer to his 2022 level than his ’23 one, and that’s an awesome sight to behold.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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16 days ago

I for one am all for reading more about how Judge/the Yankees are good, despite what was suggested in the most recent Fangraphs chat (that people might be getting fatigued hearing about how good the Yankees are).

They’re the best team right now, so people want to write/talk about them. Last year it was the Orioles’ turn. Yes, the best player in the sport deserves some digital ink spilled about him, just like when he was playing bad (by his standards)

16 days ago
Reply to  johndarc

Agree. With how big of a tear they are on, and with Soto/Judge putting up the numbers they have to date, it’s just a legitimate fun time to watch & read about the Yankees.

16 days ago
Reply to  johndarc

No one who isn’t a Yankees fan wants to hear about the Yankees, ever.

16 days ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

Except that’s clearly not true.

It’s like how people say they wish the Yankees would go away, but if they did, the sport would be incredibly damaged for it. People often don’t know what they want, they know how they feel.

Chili Davis Eyes
16 days ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

Some people just like baseball.

16 days ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

The Yankees are the team fans either love or hate. They have they largest fan base, so they have lots of love and readership. The rest of baseball hates them, although some more than others. I know Red Sox and Mets fans who basically wake up thinking about the Yankees before they think about their own teams. Either way, they’re going to read about the Yankees. Right now the Yankees have lots of interesting stories going on around them, so they should have a larger share of voice right now.

16 days ago
Reply to  MikeD

I loathe the Yankees. Same with the Dodgers.

And yet if they meet in the World Series, I’m watching every inning.

Funny how that works

16 days ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

Hey, how’d you get to this comment section without clicking on the article?

16 days ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

I strongly dislike the Yankees but I make an exception for Aaron Judge. This is the first time in a very, very long time that there has been a Yankees star who is so dominant that not even Yankees-biased media can overstate how good he is.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
15 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Just realized that 2007 A-Rod was, in fact, a very long time ago

15 days ago

I’ll never be able to repay you for all that you have done for me. Especially when during your retirement ceremony, you leaned in and whispered in my ear, “You are the Secret Captain now. Tell no one.”

I will tell no one, Jetes.

Your words are safe with me forever.

A-Rod is the best Secret Captain in Yankees history.