Red Sox Debate: Brighter MLB future – Andrew Benintendi or Aaron Judge
By Sean Penney
One glance at the hulking figure of the 6-foot-7, 275 pound Judge tells you that he possesses massive power. It was always clear that he would be able to hit home runs. It’s the lofty batting average that has taken us by surprise.
Judge enters the day seventh in the league with a .321 batting average. Not only is this a completely different hitter than the one who struggled to the tune of a .179 average in his 27 game audition last year, Judge is producing his highest batting average since low A-ball. For all his power potential, nothing in his minor league resume suggested he’d be contending for batting titles.
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Dig deeper and we find reasons to be skeptical Judge will continue at this pace. His most glaring weakness is his strikeout rate, which at 29.7 percent puts him in the bottom 10 in the league. Of the AL hitters with the 10 highest batting averages, only Chicago’s Avisail Garcia has a strikeout rate of over 21 percent – yet his 21.9 K% still isn’t nearly as troubling as Judge’s rate.
Among AL hitters with a strikeout rate of at least 24 percent, only one other hitter besides Judge has posted a batting average of at least .280 this season. That would be Minnesota’s Miguel Sano, another power hitter whose early-season batting average we should take with a grain of salt.
We should also note that Sano is the only hitter in the league with a higher BABIP than the .411 mark Judge has benefited from. The league average for balls hit in play typically hovers around .300, so when a player suddenly sports a BABIP well above that level with no track record of doing so then we have to expect regression is coming.
Judge’s massive frame and 47.2 hard hit percentage (tied for third in the league) support his status as an elite home run hitter. However, he might see some regression there as well. His 38.3 percent HR/FB ratio not only leads the league by a wide margin, it’s nearly double anything he produced in the minors.
Eventually the strikeouts are going to catch up with him, his luck on balls in play will even out a bit and the number of fly balls that leave the park will regress back to normalcy. This isn’t to suggest that Judge is on the verge of falling apart. He’ll still hit for power with a solid batting average. The difference going forward is that we should expect him to do so at a level that establishes him as a blossoming star, not an MVP candidate.