Aaron Judge’s Greatest Strength Has Become a Debilitating Weakness

The Yankees slugger has always feasted on fastballs in the strike zone, but that’s been far from the case this year. Let’s figure out what’s going wrong.

Aaron Judge has four hits and 18 strikeouts in his last eight games.

They were just two pitches in a long season in which New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge might see more than 2,000 of them. But those two pitches from Oakland Athletics pitcher J.P. Sears on Monday told you why for this very weird moment in time Judge, while at full health, is broken.

With his power and patience, Judge has been paving a career path toward Cooperstown with a resolute approach: force pitchers to throw fastballs in the zone. And when they do, he devours them. Judge slugged a ridiculous .852 last year when pitchers dared throw him a heater over the plate. Only Shohei Ohtani slugged better against challenge fastballs. Judge is a career .782 slugger against those fastballs, including .807 when he is ahead of the count.

Fastballs in the zone account for only 27% of the pitches Judge has seen in his career, but 62% of his home runs.

Sears, as if sticking his head in the lion’s mouth, did not care. In the sixth inning of a scoreless game, behind Judge 2-and-1, Sears threw a challenge fastball in a fastball count. It was a 90-mph sinker over the plate on the outer third. Judge fouled it back with such a looping, late swing that it caused him to stagger off balance completely across the plate.

Undeterred, Sears came back with another fastball, this one a 92-mph four-seamer belt high on the outer third. Working under the ball again, Judge flied out to right field with a 59-degree launch angle.

Those two pitches are the CliffsNotes to Judge’s slump. He is getting beat by fastballs in the zone, especially on the outer third. His timing is off. He is popping up the ball more than ever before.

New York’s 2–0 loss Monday was another brick in the wall Judge is up against this month. He saw seven fastballs in the zone and did nothing with them: four whiffs, two fouls and the flyball to right field. (To be fair, two of the whiffs were against closer Mason Miller’s electric 102-mph fastballs.) His batting average is down to .174, his slugging to .337.

What’s wrong? Nothing tells the story of his slump like this:




Ever since he tore a ligament in his right big toe at Dodger Stadium last midseason, Judge has hit .215 over 80 games—a virtual half season. I don’t see a connection, however, to the injury. His swing and health appear fine. If anything, his timing could be off from missing about two weeks with an abdominal injury in spring training. Judge is getting pitches to hit. He is just not on time.

Two trends stand out with his trouble with timing. One, Judge is popping up the ball more often. For a flyball hitter, Judge normally hits very few pop-ups. In 23 games this year, Judge already has hit more pop-ups than he did in the 2019 or 2020 seasons.




Two, Judge is not covering the outer third of the plate. Those classic Judge rockets to the opposite field off fastballs? Gone missing. He has just two opposite field hits off fastballs. Three years ago, before he became more of a pull hitter, he had 35.

If you split the strike zone into three equidistant lanes—inside, middle and away—Judge is especially vulnerable to the outside lane: zero hits against 42 fastballs on the outer third this year.

I did notice that at times this season (but not always), Judge has moved a few inches farther from the plate, as you can see here by the position of his left heel in relation to the outside line of the batter’s box.

Side-by-side comparison of Aaron Judge’s stance in 2023 and 2024



The difference, however, does not appear to be very significant. If I’m the Yankees, I’m not worried. It appears Judge is riding through a timing issue, not a mechanical or health issue. That’s the good news. It’s simply a matter of piling up more reps.

You’ll know Judge is back and ready to catch fire when he takes one of those fastballs Sears threw to him at 2-and-1 and 2-and-2 and rifles a line drive to right field without his bat getting too far under the ball. That is the default swing that gets Judge back on time. And once that happens, then he can return to catching more pitches out front with power to the pull side, as he has done more of since 2022.


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