Three reasons why Yankees’ Aaron Judge has had a home run drought since hitting No. 60

New York Yankees slugger and AL MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge will look to swat his 61st home run of 2022 on Wednesday night in Toronto (he’s leading off even though the Yankees are resting a lot of regulars after clinching the AL East). His next homer will tie Roger Maris’ American League single-season home run record. Maris hit 61 home runs with the 1961 Yankees. With eight games remaining, Judge has a chance to pass Maris and own the record outright.

Judge hit his 60th homer last Tuesday and is 5 for 19 (.263) with three doubles, 12 walks, and eight strikeouts in the seven games since. The seven-game home run drought is tied for his second longest of the season — Judge went seven games without a dinger from April 14-21, and a season-high nine games without a homer from Aug. 13-21.

“Not at all … That’ll come,” Judge told reporters, including ESPN, when asked whether he is concerned about his home run drought following Tuesday’s AL East-clinching win.

Given the year he’s had and the fact his next home run will carry historical significance, it’s fair to wonder whether Judge is pressing at the plate. That may be — we can’t get inside Judge’s head to know for certain — but the signs point to a hitter who’s staying within himself. Here are three reasons this is just a home run drought more than a hitter who is pressing.

1. Judge isn’t chasing

The telltale sign of a slumping/pressing hitter is chasing out of the zone (and also taking hittable pitches in the zone). They fall out of their usual approach and start doing things they don’t normally do at the plate. Judge has been one of the most disciplined hitters in the league the last few years and that trademark discipline remains intact. The numbers:

  • Seven games preceding 60th homer: 24.6% chase rate
  • Seven games since 60th homer: 20.7% chase rate
  • Season average: 23.1 percent chase rate
  • MLB average: 29.1 percent chase rate

Judge is actually chasing less since he’s hit his 60th home run, which is understandable because teams aren’t pitching to him all that much. Judge walked four times Tuesday and he drew all four walks after falling behind in the count, including once after being down 0-2 and once after being down 1-2. Judge is still very difficult to put away. Hitters who are pressing typically aren’t.

2. Pitchers keep walking him

As noted, pitchers are walking Judge plenty these days. Part of that is strategic (the Blue Jays elected not to pitch to Judge with a base open in the 10th inning Monday, because duh), and I reckon part of it is pitchers not wanting to become a trivia answer. No one wants to give up No. 61 so they’re careful with Judge. Perhaps too careful.

Judge has walked 12 times since hitting his 60th home run and 56 times in his last 52 games overall. And the thing is, it’s working. Only twice has Judge come around to score after those 12 walks (both Tuesday night). The guys hitting behind him (mostly Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres) haven’t made pitchers pay enough to reconsider their strategy.

And honestly, even if Judge had come around to score after, say, 10 of those 12 walks, I don’t think pitchers would correct the other way and stop walking him. A walk (a potential run) is still better than a homer (a guaranteed run) in their eyes even though Judge does occasionally make outs if you pitch to him. Pitchers just don’t want to risk it.

Point is, Judge is getting very little to hit right now, and he’s disciplined enough to take those walks. He’s still a very tough out as evidenced by drawing four walks after falling behind in the count Tuesday. A pressing or struggling hitter this is not.

“I’ll trade four walks for a win every single day,” Judge told reports, including MLB.com, following Tuesday’s win.

3. He’s fair missing hittable pitches

This is the single biggest reason Judge is in a (gasp!) seven-game home run drought. He’s fair missing the very few pitches he has gotten to hit. He got under three balls during New York’s recently completed homestand …

… and look at the locations of the pitches he’s fouled away since hitting No. 60. There are definitely a few juicy mistakes here that were begging to be crushed:

Aaron Judge has missed a few mistakes since hitting his 60th home run.

Baseball Scholar

The argument can be made missing hittable pitches over the plate is evidence Judge is pressing and trying to do too much. I think the fact Judge is not chasing is stronger evidence he isn’t pressing. Sometimes hitters miss mistakes. Oftentimes, really. That’s just baseball. If every mistake wound up in the seats this sport would be much more high scoring.

Bottom line, Judge is getting very little to hit right now and he’s not trying to do too much by expanding his zone. And when he has gotten pitches to hit, he’s just missed the barrel and either flown out or fouled it away. When Judge begins to change his approach and show outward frustration, that’s when we’ll know he’s pressing. For now, this is just a talented player who hasn’t hit a home run in a week, something that happens all the time in this game.