I wrote an article not so long ago, on August 12th, examining Aaron Judge’s mechanical changes and how they might have been related to his slump. In the 15 games leading up to August 12th, Judge slashed .
What I saw was that Judge’s stance, specifically where he was placing his hands, looked different than it had throughout his career. His hands were starting low and took an extra split second to cock back before any of his swings.
Since August 12th, though, Judge has gotten hot. He has slashed .310/.355/.690(!!) with seven home runs and 13 RBI. He has also clubbed four home runs to left field, whereas before August 12th that number was at zero.
So let’s see what, if anything, has changed from before August 12th to after. First off, let’s look again at what his stance looked like before August 12th, in the days of his slump. You can see in the video here.
What you see are that his hands are much lower than normal, compared to where they usually are. They take an extra split second to come back, and because it was a slower pitch on the outer half, Judge had no problem getting to it. But that approach of having his hands lower seemed to hinder his ability to fully turn on pitches.
Now let’s look at a home run that he hit on a very similar pitch from Hyun-Jin Ryu in the most recent Dodgers series. Both pitches are on the outer half and are 81 MPH off-speed pitches. But Judge attacks the pitch from Ryu with more ferocity than he did the one-off of Richard. See for yourself here.
Can you see that difference in his hands? Let’s look at a screenshot side-by-side.
On the far left is right before the left-field home run off of Ryu. In the middle and on the right are home runs that Judge hit to right field off of Clayton Richard (middle) and David Price (far right) prior to August 12th.
Those are two pretty different stances. And it’s not by accident. One thing that the hitters on the Houston Astros have become accustomed to doing is “resting” the bat on their shoulders prior to the delivery of a pitch. What that allows is for them to keep their hands back and thus keep their bat through the zone longer, improving their point of attack on the ball.
As you can see, his bat in the middle and far-right freeze frames is more vertical and his hands are lower. In the far left freeze-frame, because he rests the bat on his shoulder in his setup, his hands are almost forced to stay high and more ready to come through the zone. This limits the split second it takes to bring your hands back and get the bat into a more attack-ready position. Just take some time to watch his swings from August 12th onward, you can just see that he’s generating more power from his body and less so with his arms and hands.
Many Baseball Savant videos cut the videos up so well that they don’t waste any time, so it’s hard to see. But if you watch Judge’s at-bats, prior to bringing the bat up off his shoulder, he rests it. It’s a slight nuance, but it appears to be helping him stay disciplined with his mechanics.
It’s no coincidence, then, that this subtle change is what has led to more homers to left field. This swing right here looks a lot more like a home run that he hit back in April than any of his swings from when he returned from his oblique injury to August 12th.
For instance, here’s a home run he hit off of Dylan Bundy back in April. He looked more ready to attack as a hitter prior to his oblique injury. Directly after, it looked like he may have been trying something new, may have been giving his oblique a break, or was just mechanically sloppy after missing some time.
Whatever mechanical issues that he had that were hindering his ability to hit the ball with power to left field seem to have been remedied. He looks more locked in now than he has all season, and he even looks like an even more intimidating and confident hitter in the box the last three weeks than at any other point.
Aaron Judge is the heart and soul of this team. If he isn’t right, then it’s going to be hard for a team that relies on its offense to find success down the stretch. Yes, the season has been defined by the replacements and the feel-good stories. But I have a feeling that as the Yankees roll to October, it’s going to be on the stars like Judge to lead the way. With him looking right in the box, the Yankees can sleep easy knowing their star is ready to go.