Tuesday, November 5, 2019

How Aaron Judge Became the Modern T-Rex

Those of you who are a certain age can remember with me when Tyrannosaurus Rex really was, as his name proclaim, the king of the dinosaurs.

When you were 5 or 6, he was the dinosaur you always wanted to have, much like The Mick's baseball card (and a helluva lot easier to get).  Going to stand in awe before his fossil was the highlight of every trip to the American Museum of Natural History.

He was the biggest, baddest dinosaur of the bunch.  The one who came out to fight King Kong in the greatest Reptile-Mammal showdown of them all (or at least until George Steinbrenner-Jerry Colangelo, take your pick as to which is which).

He was the star of all those "The Land That Time Forgot," Saturday matinee movies of our youth.  The villain-hero right up through the first Jurassic Park, when—in a classic, anti-hero move—he saves the kids from those creepy Velociraptors.

Oh man, I need TV when I got T. Rex? 

But then, somebody started to notice those short, fork-like forearms of his.  What was that all about?

Pretty soon, the sabremetricians of the paleontology world were speculating that we had T-Rex all wrong.  That rather than rip you apart with those magnificent teeth of his, what he really did was head-butt other dinosaurs, charging into them on his fantastically powerful back legs, then hitting them broadside with that enormous, well-boned head of his and trying to knock them down, so they could be ripped apart at his leisure.

(Which was, of course, Zim's strategy when he charged Pedro that time in Fenway.)

Well, that seemed a little disillusioning.  But it got even worse.

Next, the sabrepaleos decided that, really, all T-Rex did was feed on the decaying flesh of dinosaurs that had already died.  That's right:  that he was no more than a sort of gigantic, flightless, prehistoric buzzard.  The little forearms became a running joke about cheapskates.

Unfortunately, our own T-Rex, Aaron Judge, has followed much the same evolution.

After being that record-setting monster in his first full year—mostly in the first half of that first year—he has devolved into the modern T-Rex.  Still pretty cool to look at and all, but not nearly the heroic figure we had hoped for, terrifying unto our enemies.

Don't get me wrong.  I love Aaron Judge.  But this, too, is becoming a cliché.  Who doesn't love Aaron Judge?  It's what we also say before adding, "But..."

He seems funny, kind, generous, always cheering on teammates, rooting more enthusiastically for the team from the dugout than anyone since Derek Jeter.  Has a great background story.

He obviously works hard at being a ballplayer, and he has made himself into a pretty good one.  He is an excellent right fielder, will give up the body to make any play (which is part of the problem, actually), a very good baserunner who can steal a bag when you need it.  An intelligent player, with a great field sense.  And a good hitter, overall.

But that's where it ends.

He's simply not going to ever be one of the Yankees' revered, outfield Thunder Lizards of the past—the Babe, The Mick, Joe-Joe DiMaggio, those immensely complicated, sometimes very dark, driven superstars—which is what we had dreamed of.

So what?  So what if he's Roy Sievers or Frank Howard, as I've called him before?  Or Norm Siebern, or a more fearless Bobby Abreu?

That's pretty good, right?

But even that seems to be rapidly deteriorating.

Let's face it:  Aaron Judge, our big bopper, the man we counted on to bring us into the New Age, is more and more looking like just one more broken or diminished casualty from The Dynasty That Never Was.

Whether it's because his body is simply too big for the game, or whatever, he cannot avoid injury—major, debilitating injury, year in and year out.

Sadly, he also cannot hit on the road, and he cannot hit in the clutch.  Most of the time, he can't even pull the ball.

Sure, part of the problem is that the umps cannot accurately gauge his strike zone, and the Yanks won't make the fuss necessary to get them to do it.

But even so, pitchers routinely now just pitch him outside, outside, outside.  They're willing to walk him if he won't bite—and too often HE loses track of the strike zone, flailing futilely at balls he can't reach.

This past year, The Judge struck out MORE often than he did in 2017, when he nearly set the record, 31.5 percent of all his plate appearances in 2019, as opposed to 30.6 percent then.   He homers considerably less often now, once every 16.5 plate appearances, as opposed to once every 13 in 2017.  He also walks less often—14.3 percent of plate appearances in 2019, as opposed to 18.7 percent in 2017.

Sure, maybe this is all due to injury.  But that's part of the problem.  We all know, by heart, the declining, combined home run numbers of the Twin Towers, Judge and Giancarlo:

2017:  111
2018:    65
2019:    30

But take a look at Judge's games played, which is even more important:

2017:  155
2018:  112
2019:  102

This is why, with genuine sadness, I keep saying they should trade the man while he has any value left.  They won't, of course.  But he's now 27, fast approaching the age at which nearly all un-juiced ballplayers begin to slide backwards.

He is, already, almost the statistical equivalent of the juiced Brett Gardner—except that he's much less likely to be able to stay on the field.

He has become little more than the modern T-Rex.  A giant carrion eater, opportunistically smacking mistake pitches into the short, rightfield porch at the Stadium every now and then—when he's able to play at all.

What a drag
Too many snags...


13bit said...

I'd say "trade him for pitching" - and I'd probably still say it, of course, if you bought me a slice of pizza - but then I catch a massive resentment at the idea that we should need to trade ANYBODY for pitching when Hal has all that money just sitting around and making more money for himself, thereby creating more money with which to make more money, and so on into the long road of unfettered end-stage capitalism. I still love Judge, BUT...

So yeah, trade him for a new hitting coach and some e-coli hotdogs.

Fuck Hal.

DHedgepeth said...

Wow. Can't say I haven't had similar thoughts lately myself. I love the big guy - he's a great rightfielder, and great teammate, but I'm increasingly finding it hard to believe he will ever be the guy we saw in 2017. And you're right about his inability to pull the ball - it kills him in almost every stadium but ours.

Anonymous said...

I really like "sabrepaleos"

I will defend him.

As you mentioned his strike out ratio is high because he probably gets more called strike threes on obviously low pitches than anyone in baseball.

Constantly getting called out on "balls" can screw with your head and destroy the zone making you swing at stuff that you normally wouldn't.

Yes he gets hurt too much.

And, after changing his exercise regimen to avoid lat stuff (and by exercise regimen I include "magic beans") he no longer hits those 450 foot home runs.

But when he's up I still watch (as opposed to other really big Yankees who's plate appearances make me go to the fridge.)

27-32 are supposed to be an athlete's peak years...

But you know what?

You're right.

He's not the guy we thought he was. He's really good but not great. And not fearsome.

We need some Velociraptors.

Doug K.

Anonymous said...

Let's be realistic. We're stuck with Stanton. He's "best" as a DH, but his position is RF and the Yanks have a lot of guys whose best position is DH. If we can get good pitching for Judge, we should do it. Of course with Cashman (who usually gets taken when he tries to trade for pitching and who seems to like stocking the team with duplicates -- Judge/Stanton, Gardy/Els) that's a big "if".

Anonymous said...





HoraceClarke66 said...

Doug K. for the defense! And I completely agree: nothing would please me more than to see him turn it around.

I just wish he were 23 or so, instead of 27 already.

Anon, you mention a certain "Stanton." Who is that now?

I remember that we had a terrific relief pitcher named Mike Stanton, who was usually outstanding in the postseason. Or perhaps you refer to Edwin Stanton, who did an outstanding job as secretary of war in Lincoln's cabinet. As best I can tell, though, that Stanton died in 1869.

Stanton...Stanton...Wait, it'll come to me...

Anonymous said...


You are thinking of Harry Dean Stanton.

Doug K.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Ah, that's it, thanks, Doug K.! You know, he died in 2017, over 90 years old. But I bet he could still give us more innings in the outfield than some people. Or, you know, we could just put his name on the roster and it would be the same thing.

Anonymous said...

If they trade Judge, what will they do with his chambers in RF, rename it Ford's Theater?

13bit said...

Duque was right - this is going to be the off-season from hell.

We will have to sit, powerless, as they do nothing or, even worse, make asshole moves. Actually, which is worse? I don't know anymore.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Good one, Anon!

And Bitty, I'd almost rather have them do nothing.

Anonymous said...

Hoss, I don't disagree with your positions very often, but the big lovable lug is on my no-trade list - - as of yet. He's only slightly more than 1/3 of my age, at this juncture. I think he will work out some of the problems you mention - - though he can't do much about the really horrid umpiring which was exhibited this season. Innumerable times one of those blind clowns put Judge in a hole - - and once they did that, he'd strike out on a down-and-out pitch.

I'm giving him much more slack - - and, from Hal the Cheap's perspective, why, pray tell, would he trade the player who is number one in jersey sales?? Can't see him entertaining the idea, any more than I am, at this point. LB (No J)

ranger_lp said...

And I don't have the heart to tell my Met fan friends that Alonso will never hit 50 home runs again...because he wont for the same reasons Judge will never hit 50 home runs again.

JM said...

This is sad. But true.

I wouldn't trade him, though. I'd rather see him become a better hitter as opposed to a home run hitter, which he isn't, really. Although why that is mystifies me. Lats excepted.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Good to hear from you, LB sans J.

And I agree: I don't think they will trade him, ever. AND...they probably should NOT trade him, just because Coops is not very good at trade.

So, he'll stay. And likely continue to diminish under this regime that doesn't give a damn about its players.

Retired Stratman said...

Most players who hit 50 home runs in a season never do it again. Think Brady Anderson, Cecil Fielder, Luis Gonzalez, et al. Hank Aaron never did it even once in his career, so don’t expect to ever see Judge, Stanton, or Alonzo ever repeat the feat. Even with today’s juiced ball, I don’t think it will happen. The only hope is that the league goes to computer’s calling balls and strikes.

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