Getting Aaron Judge | The Process Report

Getting Aaron Judge

With the Yankees rolling into town with one of the best records in the game the Rays will need to treat this series like a win or go home playoff series. This is their best chance to claw back into the upper ranks of the toughest division in baseball. While the Yankees have a stout lineup that balances speed, contact and power against both lefties and righties there has been no greater threat this year than masher of baseballs Aaron Judge.

With no shortage of good hitters it is Judge that stands atop the mountain, and it is Judge that the Rays will need to eliminate this series if there is any hope of winning this thing. While the massive slugger has had much success, a zone that large begs to be explored. Let’s look at how he has handled the three major pitch types (fastballs, breaking balls, change ups) this year from both a wOBA and whiff perspective starting with the heater:

(All images reproduced with permission from ESPN TruMedia)

The reason you don’t see too many tall batters work out is because they have such an enormous zone to cover. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Judge destroys the fastball up. Pitchers that are used to walking the line at the top of the zone now need to set their horizon a few degrees higher. Those pitches that are used to being barely a strike are now in the fat part of the zone for Judge, and he mashes them. He does show some struggle low and away, as most hitters do, but it’s the one place in the zone where you should expect to have a modicum of success against this guy. Let’s move on to the breakers:

While he mashes the fastball up, he shows excellent production on breaking balls in the middle to the bottom of the zone with no real discrepancy between pitches that are in or away. The Rays overarching pitching strategy is to throw the heater up and everything else down. This presents a real issue as we can see Judge excels against both of those offerings. How about the offspeed stuff:

Ok now we’re getting somewhere. He’s able to spit on the worst of the worst, but if you can keep your change on the bottom half of the zone you should be able to see some success. You can see what happens when it gets hung, but if you can keep it down, and preferably away, then you should see some success. Let’s switch over to the swing and miss, which looked like such a big part of his game last year, but would seem to now be less of an issue. Again, I’ll start with the heater:

It’s really hard to beat him with a fastball anywhere. The guy has such a quick bat, and such control of the entirety of the zone that you’re just not going to get a ton of whiffs out of him. Even more difficult is that he doesn’t seem to show much swing and miss at the top of the zone where you would like to sneak some fastballs by him. He’s so big that you just cannot get on top of his bat. I wouldn’t even try. You do see a hot spot in that same low and away zone that was a weakness from a wOBA-perspective above, as well. Now the breakers:

Now we’re getting somewhere. While he showed good production down in the zone he also has a tendency for the empty swing. Additionally, this extends well below the zone and looks like a pitch that could lead to some chases, PROVIDED, a pitcher can actually get ahead of him so that he needs to leave Passive Perch and enter the Darklands.

The change looked like a big weakness above, and it really shows up here. He will chase below the zone with aplomb, and we have already seen that he doesn’t do much damage even if you leave it in the bottom of the zone.

Add all this up and the plan to attack Judge should be fastballs low and away that hopefully set up the change to dive even deeper. I’d try to spot the fastball first pitch in good spots, but woe be upon you if you leave it too far in the zone. It’s ok to miss good here. If he walks then he walks, but there are far worse outcomes. If you can get ahead with the fastball then you can pound down with both secondaries and hope to get chases. I’d also lean heavily on those low secondaries behind in the count when he is most likely sitting fastball. The change up needs to be a weapon, and luckily the Rays will have Erasmo Ramirez and Matt Andriese going the first two games. Both feature excellent change ups even if the breaking ball is lacking. Chris Archer in the third game does not suffer from that same issue as his slider is incredible.

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