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Category: Analysis Page 1 of 38

Aaron Judge’s path to striking out less often

*chef’s kiss*

Strikeouts have been a part of Aaron Judge’s game throughout his professional career. The whiffs have always been tolerable thanks to everything else he contributes, though. In spite of a career 31.4 percent strikeout rate entering the 2021 season, Judge also owned a lifetime 151 wRC+ on a .272/.390/.558 triple-slash. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to complain about his propensity to swing-and-miss when he absolutely mashes the ball otherwise.

With more than 1,800 plate appearances under his belt coming into the season, I think most people accepted that Judge would never become a contact hitter. Yet, this season, the star right fielder has done just that, relatively speaking. He’s dropped his strikeout rate to 24.1 percent in 245 plate appearances in 2021, which is exactly the MLB average this year. Remarkably, Judge has done this without sacrificing his power (.255 ISO) or on-base percentage (.396). This is a pretty incredible development.

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It may be time to move DJ LeMahieu down in the order

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When Matt broke down DJ LeMahieu’s woes back in in early May, there wasn’t too much concern about the infielder’s outlook yet. It was just a little over a month into the season and even though his performance was frustrating, most of us were still preaching patience. Unfortunately, a month later, LeMahieu’s still searching for his 2019-2020 self.

Since Matt’s piece, LeMahieu has a .216/.284/.227 (47 wRC+) in his last 109 plate appearances. That includes just one extra-base hit (a double). A lot of Yankees have contributed next to nothing offensively, but LeMahieu’s lack of contribution at the top of the order is the lineup’s biggest issue, as Randy noted on Twitter yesterday. LeMahieu has been the team’s catalyst in recent seasons, so it’s no wonder the offense as a whole (sans Aaron Judge) has gone into the tank without DJ setting the table. Maybe temporarily switching out LeMahieu for someone else in the leadoff spot would help.

The Yankees Can’t Hit Strikes Anymore

It’s been an alarming season for the Yankee offense. We’re now a third of the way through the season and the team is hitting .227/.315/.370 (95 wRC+) as a unit. This is where the team ranks in some key offensive categories:

  • Homers: 64 (14th)
  • Slugging: .370 (24th)
  • wOBA: .304 (18th)
  • ISO: .143 (25th)
  • Runs: 207 (25th)

To say that this is an unexpected development is an understatement. I don’t think anyone could have predicted this. Not even the most pessimistic Yankee fan. The offense completely collapsing would probably have been at the bottom of every person’s prediction list.

There have been no shortage of proposed hypotheses for the problem, but none of them have really been sufficient explainers. The ball changed, sure, but it changed for everyone. And yes, the Yankees swing and miss – but they also did that in 2018 and 2019. And they had right-handed heavy lineups then, too. These answers may be pieces of the puzzle, but they are far from the adhesive holding it together.

Normally, when a team is struggling offensively, the first place I’d look is to see if they are pressing and chasing pitches out of the zone. That’s not the case for the Yankees. Not at all, actually. Their approach is largely consistent with their typical output. The Yankees are second overall in walk rate (10.8%), and their chase rate (28%) ranks toward the bottom of the league. All of this tracks with the patient, measured approach we’re used to seeing.

In some ways, I wish the Yankees were actually chasing. That’s an easy fix and tweak to the approach. Instead, what’s going on with the Yankees is that they simply cannot hit strikes anymore. It is bizarre. I don’t know how to fix it, but it’s pretty clearly the root of the problem. Let’s get into it.

Off the Ground: On Jameson Taillon’s 2021

When the Yankees acquired Jameson Taillon from the Pirates in January, there was a familiar ring to the trade. Whether Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Sonny Gray, or James Paxton, the Yankees have  long made a habit of trading for pitchers who are strong, talented, but are one step away from true star status. Coming off injury and having pitched for the Pirates, Taillon fits that same mold. 

This approach has yielded mixed results in the past and that’s been true for Taillon thus far. In 7 starts coming into today, he has a 5.73 ERA and a 4.67 FIP. To an extent, perhaps even a big one, this is excusable. 

Not only is Taillon coming off (another) Tommy John Surgery, but he’s also adjusting to a  completely different philosophy of pitching. The former alone is hard enough to come back from, let alone the shift from the Pirates’ pitch-to-contact strategy to the Yankees’ strikeout-focused approach. To boot, he’s also trying out new mechanics. Despite the iffy results around all these changes, there are a lot of process-based positives. 

Corey Kluber: The same, but different

Last night was an absolute joy. No hitters may be commonplace in 2021, but there’s no discounting Corey Kluber’s brilliance in yesterday’s no-no against Texas. He faced one batter over the minimum and was incredibly efficient, needing just 101 pitches to complete the feat. The 35 year-old righty might not be the same pitcher he was in his heyday in Cleveland, but if last night (and other recent starts) is any indication, there’s clearly plenty left in the tank.

Kluber now has a 2.86 ERA in 9 starts and 50.1 innings pitched. And while that’s a better mark than his career ERA, the righty is pitching a bit differently than he did during his prime. Sure, the same basic toolkit is there: namely the Kluberball along with a sinker and cutter. However, he doesn’t throw quite as hard as he once did (not that he was a flamethrower). What’s more: he’s now featuring a changeup. Hmm, where have we heard that before?

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