How Aaron Judge broke out of the biggest slump of his career: ‘There’s no panic in him’


NEW YORK — Aaron Judge is a big believer that, in baseball, success is accompanied by failure.

“If you hit .300 or get on 40% of the time, you’re a beast,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “You know what that means? You do a lot of failing along the way.”

Even a superstar like Judge, one of the most influential faces of the sport, didn’t become a master of his craft until he first made mistakes. The way Judge sees it, he doesn’t triumph over adversity. Challenges and hard times are a part of his success; it’s the philosophy that drives Judge’s game. His unique relationship with failure is part of how, in just the span of a couple of weeks, Judge went from getting booed by the same fans that call him captain, to being the hottest hitter in Major League Baseball.

“Today, I might do everything right and be 0-for-4, or I could be 4-for-4,” Judge told FOX Sports. “You never know what’s going to happen. But as long as I’m focused on keeping it simple — flush the bad days, don’t sit too high on the good days. Then that’s when you can look down the road in November, and look back and be like, alright. I had a bad stretch here, I had a good stretch there. But right now? It’s just even-keel.”

Boone didn’t learn anything new about Judge as he battled what was, statistically, the worst start to a season in his career. Really, no one in the Yankees organization saw a different side of the five-time All-Star outfielder while he struggled. Judge recorded a .754 OPS in March and April, which was the lowest such mark through his first 31 games of a season. But the way he carried himself around his coaches and teammates, he could’ve recorded a 1.000 OPS during that stretch and no one would’ve known the difference. 

No matter how Judge is performing at the plate, he’s the same person on and off the field. 

“He’s always having the boys over, playing FIFA, and doing stuff on the road,” Yankees left fielder Alex Verdugo told FOX Sports. “He’s someone that goes about it the right way. It’s cool to see, because when you have that much success, you don’t really know how a guy’s going to be. But the fact that he’s super humble, loves everybody, and really genuinely wants everyone to do good, he’s the best.”

Behind the scenes, while he was still hitting under .200 in early May, Judge worked with Yankees hitting coach James Rowson to get back on track. There was no attempt at a major adjustment. There was no frantic investigation into why Judge was no longer punishing mistakes. Really, all Judge asked of Rowson was to have an extra set of eyes. The former MVP asked his coaches to look at videos of his swing for him, and to talk to him in the dugout and tell him what they saw from his most recent at-bat. Judge’s experience as a superstar in the game has helped him understand when his swing is off better than most, Rowson observed. 

In the end, it was communication and collaboration between Judge and coaches that got him to click again. But it wasn’t an exhaustive, or even an obsessive, effort. Judge, true to his word, remained even-keel.

His Yankees teammates said that it’s rare — special, even — that they can’t tell whether he’s in the midst of a slump or a hot streak. Sure, he’s human, but he “barely” got frustrated, Boone said. It’s not like Judge is masking his emotions. He just doesn’t get temperamental one way or the other.

“He is the definition of not riding the roller coaster,” Rowson said. “The ups and downs, letting his emotions go with it, he’s not doing that. He’s very consistent with how he shows up, whether he’s dominating on the field, or whether he’s going through a tough spell. And I think that’s what allows his tougher spells to be shorter, because he doesn’t get up and down. There’s no panic in him. He stays the same.”

Aaron Judge smashes two-run HR to extend Yankees’ lead vs. White Sox

Aaron Judge smashes two-run HR to extend Yankees' lead vs. White Sox

Giancarlo Stanton added: “It’s not his first rodeo. It’s not his first time not playing his ideal, the way he would like. It was just standard procedure. Same guy, working the same. Still having good at-bats. It was only a matter of time until he broke out.”

Apparently, that matter of time was less than two weeks. 

On April 20, incidentally his own bobblehead day at Yankee Stadium, Judge went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and was booed by New York’s home crowd. Since 2022, Judge has struck out four times in just two games. The following week, his production hadn’t gotten any better. On April 26, Judge carried a .178/.317/.356 slash line with four home runs on the season. Finally, a dozen games later, there was light. From April 27 to May 9, he crushed five home runs and posted a much more Judge-like 1.285 OPS. 

Around then, Boone saw small signs, which he had a hard time putting into words, that indicated Judge was breaking out of his slump. It could be the way he took a swing. It could be how he fouled off a pitch, or how he just missed a pitch. 

“You start off hot, you start off cold, you just can’t really look too much into it,” Judge told FOX Sports. “End of the year, you’re going to have around 600 at-bats. If I’m basing my success on how the season is going to go, based off of 80 at-bats, it’s too quick. I could have a good 80 at-bats in the middle of June, or a bad 80 at-bats in the middle of June, and nobody knows because it’s hidden by those [other] 500 at-bats. 

“So, you’re just taking it day by day. If I’m not getting hits, then it’s about having good at-bats, taking the walks, playing good defense, and you’re still winning.”

For the first time in recent years, the Yankees remained afloat while Judge struggled, in part because they acquired two lefties in Juan Soto and Verdugo and transformed their offense, but also because Judge was still finding ways to get on base. His 20 walks through April 26 ranked fourth in MLB. 

But at about the same time he started hitting, the Yankees took off. 

Judge DRILLS solo homer to give Yankees early lead vs. White Sox

Judge DRILLS solo homer to give Yankees early lead vs. White Sox

Their current seven-game winning streak is the franchise’s longest since September 2022, spurred by Judge ranking first in all of baseball in on-base percentage (.625), slugging (1.208), extra-base hits (nine) and total bases (29) while batting .500. After homering again Sunday, he’s hitting .386 and slugging .912 in May, which has seen New York go 14-3 and catapult to the best overall record in the American League. When Judge is playing with his hair on fire, combined with Soto also producing at an MVP level, the Yankees are simply unforgiving. 

Even when we move beyond the small samples, Judge is still, well, Judge. Through 48 games, he not only leads MLB in walks but ranks in the top five in home runs, doubles, slugging and OPS. As slow as Judge’s start was, when he gets going, he can leapfrog over his competition and land right back at the top. It’s a product of his work ethic, and a result of his composure and seemingly unflappable mindset. 

“He’s as good as I’ve ever seen, whether playing with or managing, at handling the ebbs and flows of the season,” Boone said. “And, obviously, part of that is, he’s a great player, so he has the confidence and knows that he’s going to have results. But you would never know if he has a series where he scuffles, or a week where he scuffles, or a week where he’s doing the things he is right now. 

“He’s really consistent at who he is, and what he presents. I’d say he’s the best I’ve ever seen at that.”

Perhaps one of the best baseball has ever seen, period.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Get more from Major League Baseball Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *