HOUSTON — At 6-foot-7 and nearly 300 pounds, it is not easy for Yankees rookie right fielder Aaron Judge to hide, but that is what he was able to do against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series. The fact that the New York Yankees won their ALDS in dramatic fashion allowed for Judge’s historically bad hitting performance to be somewhat shielded.
That won’t last, especially because much of the focus heading into the American League Championship Series is on the top two American League MVP candidates, Judge and Houston Astros second baseman, Jose Altuve, who at 5-6 is just slightly smaller. Judge is not focusing on any personal battles.
“It is about the Astros versus the Yankees,” Judge said.
Judge’s first concern must be trying to find his form from the regular season, when he hit .284 with 52 homers and 114 RBIs.
In the ALDS against the Indians, Judge lost most individual matchups. Judge struck out 16 times in 20 at-bats, which set a major league postseason record for a single series.
“I’ve been missing the mistakes,” Judge said. “I’m not capitalizing right now.”
Former Yankees star Alex Rodriguez never struck out that much, even in his most awful playoff stretches. A-Rod’s worst performance was nine K’s in a single series.
Judge had just one hit in the ALDS, but it was a big one. His two-run, second-inning double off the Indians’ Trevor Bauer in Game 4 extended the Yankees’ lead to four runs and allowed them to sail to a victory.
That is why Yankees manager Joe Girardi must at least consider moving Judge down in the order in the ALCS and out of the No. 2 slot. Girardi doesn’t necessarily have to do it, of course, especially in Game 1 on Friday night, but the idea has to be considered.
With lefty Dallas Keuchel on the mound Friday, Girardi is likely to keep Judge behind leadoff hitter Brett Gardner. If there is no improvement, then in Game 2 against Justin Verlander, Girardi might make a change. He could just slide his lineup behind Gardner up — so Didi Gregorius would bat second, followed by Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Starlin Castro. Girardi could insert Judge in the sixth spot after Castro.
Judge’s best position in the order, on a statistical level, has been second. He had a slash line of .327/.465/.827 in 127 plate appearances when he was in the No. 2 positon. At the 5-spot, he was similarly devastating, hitting .327/.439/.609 in 132 plate appearances. When he also did well hitting sixth, where he batted .342.
The only time Judge struggled substantially was when he batted third or fourth. Batting third, he hit only .239 in 63 games, while at the cleanup spot, he was a .219 hitter in just nine games.
The Yankees will probably make Matt Holliday the DH in Game 1.
Girardi said he believes the strike zone was tight against Judge in the ALDS.
“I thought they just made a ton of good pitches on him,” Girardi said. “I think there were some borderline calls that didn’t go his way that could have been walks, and maybe it looks a little bit different.”