For those of us who fear both large men and the concentrated power the judicial system gives to one person wielding a gavel, the All-Star break was a nightmare. Aaron Judge took every baseball story line, gathered them up like a bunch of twigs, and used them to launch baseball after baseball at the sound barrier. He was the consensus AL front-runner for Rookie of the Year because he was also the best player in the league … by far. He turned the Home Run Derby into an alternate version of David and Goliath where David loses and paganism becomes the dominant religion of Western civilization. And with the sport hurtling toward the tripolarity of strikeouts, walks, and home runs, Aaron Judge was, as of a week ago, christened as both the face and future of baseball.
Not so fast, big boy.
Before the All-Star break, Judge might’ve been the clear MVP, but in the second half he’s been the worst player in the league. According to FanGraphs, Judge has been worth minus-0.4 wins, tied with Mitch Moreland for the lowest figure in the majors among players who have appeared in seven games. He’s hitting for no power. His .115 batting average is also his slugging percentage, and he’s getting on base about as often as Adam Wainwright. In 31 plate appearances, Judge is 3-for-26 with nine strikeouts and a minus-10 wRC+; he’s hit into two double plays and been caught stealing once. You — whether you’re Garry Kasparov, a Subway sandwich artist, or a disgraced former beekeeper — have been a more valuable contributor to the Yankees since July 14.
So, what the hell happened?
Maybe Jackie Bradley Jr. turned him into a nihilist philosopher?
If you do all of the work — lift enough weights, take enough practice swings, calibrate both your mind and body to be coordinated enough to see a baseball moving at 90-plus miles per hour and then bash it with a sanded-down piece of wood at just the right angle and speed to send it flying over a man-made fence more than 400 feet away — and then some jerk comes along and snatches the ball away with his oversized glove? I’d ponder the meaninglessness of it all and stop attempting to produce value for my employer, too. Wouldn’t you?
Or maybe Judge threw away all of his power in service of getting one extra out in the third inning of Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins. The effort is honorable, but upon seeing this kind of self-destruction at the altar of midseason hustle, we must ask ourselves: What hath our no-days-off culture wrought?
Or maybe it’s just a slump. Maybe it’s just a random sequence of non-hits and non-homers that dot even the greatest of all individual seasons. Yeah … no thanks. Nothing with Judge has ever been that easy to explain.