Syndication: The Record

The New York Yankees are 10-3 to start the year, and they’ve barely needed team captain and former MVP Aaron Judge!

No, seriously. Amid the Bronx Bombers’ hot start, Aaron Judge has been a near non-factor. The big slugger is batting just .178 on the year with a pair of homers and six RBI. New teammate Juan Soto, meanwhile, is thriving in Judge’s former No. 2 spot in the lineup, batting .360 with a 1.008 OPS, two home runs and 12 RBI. His on-base percentage (OBP) is an astounding .468.

And in fairness to Judge, he’s still an on-base machine! His OBP sits at .367 thanks to his AL-leading 14 walks. This isn’t new for Judge, who led the league in walks in his MVP season two years ago.

In fact, upping the walks and downing the strikeouts might be the one thing Aaron Judge has done right for the Yankees in 2024. His walk rate (BB%) is up to a career-high 23.3%. He’s cut his strikeout rate (K%) down to 21.7%, also a personal best.

However, other metrics tell a different story. Aaron Judge, though a former MVP, has a soft contact rate (Soft%) of 21.2% on the year. That’s a career worst and up from just 7.9% last season and 9.8% for his career. In turn, Judge’s fly ball rate (FB%) has dipped to 42.4% from a healthy 50% in 2023. His pull rate has dipped nearly 15 total points to just above 30%.

So what does it all mean? The walks are up, the strikeouts are down, and he’s swinging less at pitches both in and out of the zone.

Could it be that the big, strong, intimidating Aaron Judge is being a bit too patient?

Too much patience or not, the Yankees and expert hitting coach James Rowson need to get their captain right. Bad luck is definitely a factor, Judge’s BABIP is only a paltry .194. It’s hard to succeed when most of the balls you hit in play result in outs. His average exit velocity, though still in the 87th percentile, is only 92.8 mph on the year, below his career mark of 95.6.

But let’s fall even deeper down the statistics hole. This can’t just be a slow start or just bad luck, right? Judge is too good for that. Too great, even.

And it’s finally here, between looking at his splits on Baseball-Reference plus his game film for the season, that we may be able to solve the Aaron Judge problem. The improved walk and strikeout numbers at the cost of his booming bat have a root cause.

For some reason, Aaron Judge is just trying to do too much with his swings. By the 2024 numbers, he’s the most official plate appearances under three circumstances: After a 1-0 count, in any count with two strikes, or when Judge is ahead in the count at any time.

His batting averages in those three instances are as follows: .191, .136, and .188.

Perhaps most shocking and concerning of all is that Judge has yet to get a single base hit on a full count this season.

It all comes down to the simple, frustrating truth: Aaron Judge is trying too, too hard. He’s being more patient and not necessarily swinging at bad pitches, but he’s absolutely swinging at more pitches down in the zone. Perhaps he knows he gets burned by the called low strikes and is trying to combat that?

Lucky for the Yankees, Judge is a good enough hitter and Rowson is a great enough coach that this will be fixed. Aaron Judge didn’t just start aging rapidly and lose his bat speed overnight. In all likelihood, he’s just rusty from missing the back end of spring training with sore abs.

And guess what? New York’s hot start with Judge underperforming can only mean one thing.

Once he’s back, watch out for the New York Yankees.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.