The Yankees were just swept at home by the Cleveland Indians. Generally speaking it is the offense that has been the problem of late. Concern is being ratcheted-up. The Yankees have now fallen 5 1/2 games behind the 1st place Boston Red Sox in the Al East, and even more concerning, only 2 1/2 games ahead of the hard-charging Baltimore Showalters. So much of the focus has been placed upon Aaron Judge, and in my opinion .. rightfully so. Judge helped carry the team in the 1st half of the season, and just as importantly set the tone for the team’s offensive “approach”. The offense was hitting gap-to-gap, and looking to hit to the opposite field as much as pulling the ball. Unfortunately, when Judge’s struggles started, so did the entire offense. The 6’7″ 282 pound Right-fielder put up a 1st half for the ages, not to mention that he did it as a rookie. At the All-Star Break he had 30 Home Runs, and more impressively (in my book) a .329 BA !! How did he do it?? He did it because he stayed 100% disciplined & committed to a perfect approach. He anticipated the fastball, and when he swung at them, his approach was driving the ball up-the-middle & to the opposite field. The gap-to-gap and oppo approach kept him from pulling off the ball and not being susceptible to pitches off the outside part of the plate. When the pitch wasn’t a fastball, he would be “out in front” and pull ONLY off speed pitches. Because of his up-the middle approach, when he was “out in front” of the off speed he was pulling the ball to left field not foul into the stands. No one in the media understood exactly what the secret to his success was, and therefore no one knows what to make of the slump now.
Where are the coaches you ask? Great question! They are not helping because they were not the ones that instilled the successful approach.
Who taught Judge the approach that made him MVP of the league in the 1st-half you ask? Another great question !! The answer is …Matt Holliday. Matt’s locker was right next to Judge during spring training and Aaron followed him around and picked his brain. You can trace the start of Judge’s struggles to when Holliday went on the DL with a viral infection that Matt is still is trying to bounce back from. The Yankees could use Holliday’s bat AND leadership /mentorship back in the Bronx right now.
I wrote a column back on July 29th entitled “Number 33 was Different”. I exclusively pointed out that home run #33 by Aaron Judge off of Tampa Bay’s Austin Pruitt was the FIRST homer he pulled all season to left field off a FASTBALL. That is an amazing stat that went unrecognized by everyone. Unfortunately it was evidence to me that Judge was getting away from his successful approach. Judge is not hitting nearly as many balls up the middle and to the opposite field. He has gotten away from looking for FBs he can drive that way and now is more of a reactionary (sometimes guess) hitter.
In addition, Aaron is not hitting nearly as many line-drives as he did. The number of balls he “gets-under” and “pops-up” has increased significantly. This is because he is upper-cutting the ball. The Yankees need to take some of the blame for this bad habit. I wrote a column explaining all of this and what the solution is back on August 22nd called “JUDGE & JURY”
The Yankees must hope that their coaches can figure out how to get Judge back on track with the right approach that will also lead the way for the numerous other righty bats in the line-up. It is fair to claim that injuries were a big part of the team’s offensive downturn. Not only did Holiday go on the DL but so did Castro & Hicks. However they are back now along with the potent bat of Gary Sanchez, Didi has been solid throughout and yet the offense has still struggled. Which brings me to the title of my column ..
Besides straightening out Judge, in my opinion, Greg Bird is the biggest hope we can hang our Yankee hats on. Bird has the ability to catch fire and carry an offense when he is healthy. He did it when he was called up from the minors in August 2015, hitting 11 HRs and knocking in 31 RBIs in only 46 games. He tore-up the grapefruit league this spring training leading the league in power numbers, with a .400+ BA. The 6’4″, 24 year old 1st baseman is a pure hitter who can not only hit with power, but can spray the ball from foul-line to foul-line.
The sweep by the Indians was forgettable, but something to remember was in the 9th inning of the 2nd game of the doubleheader loss. Greg Bird offered the lone bright spot of the day by launching a 3 run home run to right field.
The Yankees desperately need offense. Greg appears healthy. He battled back quickly from ankle surgery as he promised he would. The Yankee offense although struggling now absolutely CAN catch fire again.
Perhaps you’ve heard … BIRD is the WORD