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Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium began with iconic radio announcer John Sterling's retirement ceremony and ended with a shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Rays (TB 2, NY 0 in 10 innings). It was the fifth time in the last 10 games New York was held to three runs or fewer. The Yankees remain atop the AL East at 14-7, though they have lost four of their last six games.

Aaron Judge had a wretched day at the plate, going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts. He saw 18 pitches and swung and missed at 10, and after striking out in the ninth inning, Judge heard some boos as he walked back to the dugout. It was his bobblehead day too. Judge got booed on his bobblehead day.

"I've heard worse," Judge said about being booed. "I'd probably be doing the same thing in their situation."

A captainly response, that is. Straight out of the Derek Jeter playbook. And to be sure, Judge did not hear full-throated boos from the 47,629 in attendance, the kind Josh Donaldson and Joey Gallo heard during their stints in pinstripes. It was more of a smattering than an onslaught. Still, Judge had a terrible day at the plate and got booed.

The 0 for 4 day dropped Judge's season batting line to .179/.323/.359 through 21 games and 96 plate appearances. It is, by far, his worst 21 game start to a season. Here are his worst numbers through 21 games in his eight full seasons:

WorstNext worst

Batting average

.179 in 2024

.256 in 2020

On-base percentage

.318 in 2020

.323 in 2024

Slugging percentage

.359 in 2024

.494 in 2019


.682 in 2024

.881 in 2019

The season is still young, though not so young that we can't begin to believe in breakout performances or wonder what's going on with struggling stars. Judge is hardly the only star struggling -- Francisco Lindor is going through the same thing on the other side of town -- though few players are as important to their team as the 2022 AL MVP. If Judge doesn't hit, the Yankees are going nowhere.

What's going on with the Yankees captain? Here are a few possible explanations for the worst 21-game start to a season in Judge's big league career.

Theory 1: It's just a slump

Would we notice if this happened in, say, the middle of June? I mean, yes, probably, though it would not be as noticeable. At that point it's just the normal ebbs and flows of the season. For example, during his 62-homer season in 2022, Judge hit .195/.275/.402 for a 21-game stretch from June 12 to July 5. The start of the season has a way of magnifying things, you know?

Judge had a minor abdominal injury in spring training and got only 10 at-bats the final 17 days of camp. He's been playing catch-up at the plate these first 21 games, and perhaps the single best piece of evidence Judge is still trying to get his timing right is his pop-up rate. The man has become a pop-up machine early this season, and pop-ups are essentially automatic outs.

Aaron Judge is running the highest infield pop up rate of his career in 2024. FanGraphs

Until Saturday, Judge had not struck out or swung and missed excessively this season. All his plate discipline numbers (chase rate, in-zone contact rate, etc.) are right in line with the last few seasons, including advanced swing decision metrics like Baseball Prospectus' SEAGER. Despite the lack of results, this is not a hitter who has flailed away hopelessly at the plate for 21 games.

Getting back up to speed in meaningful big league games, when pitchers are trying to get outs rather than working on specific things, can be difficult. I would have expected Judge to iron things out by now, but he hasn't. Give him a little more time and he'll be fine. That is Theory 1. It's just a slump and he'll be fine soon enough.

"It's still early. It's a long season," Judge said Saturday. "I'm just missing the pitch. When I get a pitch in the zone, I've got to capitalize on it. I don't get too many. That's what it comes down to: Don't miss your pitch when you get it."    

Theory 2: He's hurt

Watch the 2024 Yankees on any given night and you're likely to see two things: Juan Soto doing something incredible and Judge grimacing. Grimacing after a swing, grimacing after a slide, grimacing after running through first base, you name it. Even this early in the season, no player is truly 100% healthy, though the game does look painful to Judge right now.

Judge insists he's healthy but we know he's not really 100%. In spring training, he admitted the toe injury he suffered last season is something that will require "constant maintenance," and he had the abdominal issue too. He was able to play on Opening Day, though the injury was enough of a concern that the Yankees sent Judge for an MRI.

I think it's extremely unlikely Judge feels in tip top shape physically. The question is how much is it affecting his performance? There's a difference between being hurt and being injured. Players play hurt all the time. Judge doing so now would not be out of the ordinary. It is bad enough that he's really injured and shouldn't be playing? Only one person knows the answer to that.

Theory 3: He's in decline

Judge turns 32 later this week and there have been very few hitters his size (listed at 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds) throughout baseball history. It's Frank Howard, Dave Winfield, and that's about it. We have a pretty good idea how the typical player declines, but with Judge, there's little to no precedent. How do the skills of a player this big erode? What does the decline look like?

Judge's calling card throughout his career has been unmatched contact quality. No one in the game hits the ball harder than this guy. And to be sure, Judge is still hammering the ball in 2024 (even with all those pop ups), but his exit velocity has dipped from otherworldly to merely excellent. The numbers:

Average exit velocityHard-hit rateBarrel rate (what's this?)


95.8 mph




97.6 mph




93.7 mph



Career average

95.6 mph



MLB average

88.7 mph



The decline in exit velocity could be the result of Judge's timing being out of whack, sure, though there's also a chance he's entering his decline phase and this is how it's revealing itself. I think we need to see way more than 21 games to say Judge is over the hill, but the chances he is are not 0%. He's almost 32 and he's a big guy. Father Time comes for us all. 

Theory 4: He's cracking under the pressure

I don't buy this for half a second, though I have seen it out there on media sociale, and figured it was worth a mention. The theory is Judge feels overshadowed by Soto, the greatest player has ever taken the field with, and he can't handle it. Like I said, I don't buy it. We're talking about a player who turned down a $213.5 million extension in April 2022, then went out and hit 62 home runs to earn himself a $360 million contact. Talk about betting on yourself. I don't think pressure has anything to do with this poor 21 games, but you know how it is. People will believe what they want to believe.

In all likelihood, there is not once specific reason Judge is having a poor start to the season. It's probably a combination of things. His timing is not right after his spring training was interrupted, he's not fully healthy, and yeah, maybe he's in decline too. It could also be a disruption to his routine. After playing right field and batting second throughout his career, he's now playing center field and batting third in deference to Soto. I would be surprised if that was the reason Judge has started slow, but you never know.

I do know this much: The Yankees need Judge to get going at the plate. The fact they've gone 14-7 without him doing much is a testament to how much deeper their lineup is this year than last year. If Judge did this last season, forget it. No chance the Yankees win 14 times in 21 games. They were overly reliant on him. Still, Judge is very important to the Yankees. They can survive him slumping, as we've seen these first 21 games, but they can't survive him having a poor season.