2017 ALCS: If Aaron Judge doesn't get right, the Yankees are in trouble vs. Astros

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 10:36:01 PM. Judge went 1 for 20 at the plate and donned 'tres sombreros' with a record-setting 16 strikeouts against the Indians in the ALDS.

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New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge set a postseason record for most strikeouts in a series with 16 against the Cleveland Indians. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The New York Yankees will face the Houston Astros in the ALDS, but they had to overcome an underwhelming performance by Aaron Judge to do it.

The rookie right fielder set the major league rookie record with 52 home runs during the regular season and is on the shortlist by many to be named the AL’s most valuable player. But despite hitting a home run in the Yankees’ victory over the Minnesota Twins in the AL wild-card game, Judge set a postseason record for most strikeouts in a series with 16 against the Indians while going a woeful 1 for 20 at the plate.

The key was not giving Judge anything to hit with power. When he was clobbering home runs during the regular season, almost all those hits were in the heart of the strike zone. The Indians, however, made sure most of the pitches thrown to Judge stayed out of his power zone, with sliders down and away and fastballs up and in — his Achilles’ heel.

When Judge got a slider low and away, in both the regular season and playoffs combined, Judge is 7-for-57 (. 123 average against) with no extra-base hits. Against the latter he is batting .152 (5-for-33) with a .333 slugging percentage.

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Judge endured a slump like this before, and for the same reason.

His slugging percentage dropped precipitously during July and August due to his propensity for swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing percentage). Once he reversed this trend he was back on track in September, only to fall into bad habits again during the playoffs.

Aaron Judge in 2017 SLG K% O-Swing% April/March 0.750 27% 12.0% May 0.642 30% 13.6% June 0.686 29% 11.2% July 0.483 36% 13.9% August 0.326 35% 15.9% Sept/Oct 0.889 26% 11.2% 2017 Playoffs 0.292 55% 15.5%

To say the Yankees need one of the league’s best sluggers to produce at the plate is not breaking any new ground, but New York will need Judge to be that slugger that set the league on fire when they face a Houston Astros team that is one of the best hitting clubs in baseball history.

After adjusting for league, era and park effects, the 2017 Astros were the fourth-best hitting team in major league history, creating runs at a rate that was 21 percent higher than the league average (121 wRC+). Only the Babe Ruth led Yankees of 1927, 1930 and 1931 were better.

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And, no surprise, when Judge was playing well (April, May, June, September and October) the Yankees produced an above-average weighted on-base average, which combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. During his slump in July and August, plus the playoffs, they were a below average team.

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The Astros, meanwhile, have seen their collective wOBA dip below the league average just once (.311 in August, .349 wOBA during the season) this season and have produced a playoff-high .419 wOBA during the postseason, significantly higher than any of the teams left in contention. To put that number in perspective, Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins produced a .410 wOBA in 2017 after batting .281 with 59 home runs and 132 RBI.

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According to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 42 percent chance of advancing to the World Series, but if Judge sets more postseason records for strikeouts, and keeps adding to his collection of golden sombreros, without contributing to the team’s run total, that can quickly dwindle down to zero.

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