Aaron Judge banks on his learning from NL MVP to hit more in playoffs

Aaron Judge is signing autographs at 2023 Yankees spring training camp.

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TAMPA, Fl. — Despite a historic season, Aaron Judge is trying to improve in the upcoming season. The AL MVP expects his hitting to get better in the postseason thanks to what he learned from NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt.

Aaron Judge had been thinking about a two-strike approach for years as a way to try to cut down on strikeouts and make him more effective in some situations. But in 2019, when he was most comfortable with it, he hurt his oblique and had to miss two months of the season. Then, for the past three years, spring training has been shorter or less clear because of COVID or labor disputes. This has put a change in approach “on the back burner,” in Aaron Judge’s words.

With the promise of a normal spring training in 2023, Aaron Judge sees it as an opportune moment. Despite hitting 62 homers in 2022 and coming close to win the Triple Crown, he is eager to go for more.

According to Aaron Boone, “He (Judge) is one of those guys who can’t stop thinking about how to improve. He finds out who the best at something is because he wants to be the best.”

So, after watching Paul Goldschmidt last year, Aaron Judge met with him during the offseason to talk to the first baseman. The Yankees superstar watched videos of Juan Soto and Bryce Harper to see how did they change where their feet were placed to make sure they could unleash two strikes.

“I told [Goldschmidt], ‘I saw you up close and I watched your videos talk to me about your approach,’ ” Aaron Judge said. “He has a smaller, little stride [with two strikes] and kind of waits there. That’s something I want to mix in. So I asked, ‘How do you do that? What’s your thought process in this situation or that?’ ”

Aaron Judge said it would depend on the situation. “The game will tell me what’s more important, driving in this run or trying to hit for the fences?”

Because Aaron Judge doesn’t want to give up every time he gets two strikes. After all, he hit the most two-strike home runs in the MLB with 21. Rowdy Tellez of Milwaukee had 17, and no one else had more than 14. Still, Judge wants to adapt to what’s going on. He said things like trying to start a rally right at the start of a game or when a runner is on third and there are less than two outs. In that situation, Aaron Judge drove in 16 of 32 runs last year.

Hitting coach Dillon Lawson believes Aaron Judge can do it without impacting his performance.

“He is in such a good place with his pre-two-strike swing where he can add something without taking away from other things, said Lawson. “With regards to shortening, it’s just a tool he wants in his back pocket to use when necessary.”

Aaron Judge had 396 at-bats with two strikes last year, which tied for third in the major leagues. He hit .194 in those at-bats (72nd rank) and was 26th in slugging. His OPS of .700 was the fourth best.

Aaron Judge focuses on playoffs

But his numbers with two strikes in the postseason have been terrible. Aaron Judge said he isn’t reacting to the numbers, but rather to the idea that everything he does is meant to make him better in October so he can help the Yankees win a championship.

Last year, when the count got to two strikes, Aaron Judge went 1-for-23, walked once, and struck out 15 times. The hit was a single into the infield. In his only at-bat, he hit an infield single with two strikes against him in a 2021 wild-card game that the Red Sox won. During the 2020 playoffs, Aaron Judge went 0 for 16 with a walk and two strikes.

Since ALDS Game 2 against the Twins in 2019, Aaron Judge hasn’t hit a ball that didn’t hit an infielder’s glove in his last 59 at-bats in the postseason. He has two postseason home runs in 120 at-bats with two strikes, but none since Game 2 of the 2018 ALDS against David Price and Boston. In the postseason as a whole, Aaron Judge has hit.120 with two strikes and 66 whiffs.

In general, the Yankees’ offense has failed in the playoffs because they go for it all or nothing against the best pitchers, and Aaron Judge has been a big part of that. When asked if the change in strategy is meant to help the team score more runs in key situations in the postseason, he said “100%.”

“That plays into it,” Aaron Judge said. “That is ultimately why we do all the work in spring training to be ready for the postseason and win games in the postseason. So that is what I am going to use spring training for to hopefully master this [shorter stride in various two-strike situations] and then use the season to pick and choose moments where I need to bust this out — drive a guy in, move a guy over, get myself on base. All the regular season is, is practice for the real scene.”

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