What a Rise! Judge debuted 1 year ago

Yanks rookie slugger discusses anniversary of first game

What a Rise! Judge debuted 1 year ago

NEW YORK -- One year ago Sunday, Aaron Judge had an exciting Major League debut, going 2-for-4 with a home run. It was followed by a lackluster late-season stint that left him fighting for a starting job in Spring Training.

Now Judge is arguably the most recognizable player in MLB. What a difference a year makes.

Buy an official Judge 'All Rise' Players Weekend jersey

"It's pretty crazy to think about," Judge said before Sunday's series finale with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. "It's been a year since I got called up. That's pretty crazy to me. It's a special day."

This special day comes after a not-so-special start to the second half of this season. The version of Judge that stepped in the batter's box Sunday night resembles more of the inconsistent player from last season than the MVP-caliber talent that has made him one of the faces of baseball.

Judge's numbers in his 27 games last season are nearly identical to those he put up in the first 27 games after the All-Star break.

• 2016: .179/.263/.345, four HR, 10 RBIs, 42 K's
• 2017: .161/.331/.333, five HR, 12 RBIs, 43 K's

Sandwiched between those two 27-game stretches, Judge hit .329/.448/.691 with 30 homers and 66 RBIs in 87 games to begin this season.

"Our hope is that he's going to find his way out of this and get back to the things that he's been doing," manager Joe Girardi said. "I feel like he has taken walks and has gotten on base through some of this. He has hit some home runs through this, but obviously he has not been as consistent as he was in the first half."

Mechanics, not mentality, are to blame for Judge's struggles, Girardi said, pointing to a quick trigger on pitches he used to sit back on.

As a hitter swings, he tries to let the pitch travel as deep in the strike zone as possible. This allows him to send more force through the ball at the point of contact because he can unload all his stored up energy into the ball at once.

When the hitter opens up his front side too early, he has three options: 1) swing, even though the pitch isn't as deep as he'd like it; 2) slow his swing until the ball travels deeper, knowing there will be less force behind the swing; or 3) take the pitch.

With the first two options, the hitter's timing is disrupted and he isn't in the optimal hitting position. He either swings and misses or doesn't make good contact.

In the first half of the season, Judge had an average exit velocity of 96.4 mph, according to Statcast™, which defines "hard hit" as any ball hit with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. Judge's average exit velocity in the 27 games since is 93.7 mph.

"Part of it has to do with his front side being a little quick and some other things that he's doing," Girardi said.

Still, Girardi never wavers in his confidence that Judge will work his way out of the slump.

"To me, it's a little mechanical thing," Girardi said. "He's trying to get it. And we'll get it."

Bombers Bits
• Girardi said Sunday that he's leaning toward starting Luis Cessa Monday night vs. the Mets in place of Masahiro Tanaka, who was placed on the disabled list on Saturday.

Greg Bird and Starlin Castro are both expected to begin their Minor League rehabilitation assignments this week, with Bird's first game on Wednesday and Castro's on Friday. Bird has been on the DL since the beginning of May, while Castro was placed on the DL on July 22.

Matt Holliday took batting practice on the field for the first time since he was placed on the DL on Aug. 5.

Matthew Martell is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.