Unpredictability helped Athletics thwart Aaron Judge

Jesse Hahn was one of the pitchers who shut down Aaron Judge on Saturday. Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Shutting down the best (healthy) player in baseball isn’t easy, but the Oakland Athletics managed to prevent Aaron Judge from impacting their win over the New York Yankees on Saturday.

Judge walked in his first plate appearance (his 18th walk in his past 18 games), but he struck out in each of his next three turns -- twice against Jesse Hahn and once against Ryan Madson. This was an accomplishment, because Judge was hitting .432 with 16 hits, 16 runs scored, five home runs and 11 RBIs in his previous nine games.

How did the Athletics' pitchers get those three strikeouts? They were unpredictable, both at the beginning and end of the at-bats.

In each instance, they started Judge with a first-pitch strike and Judge could not predict what to expect, because it was a different pitch type that started the at-bat each time.

Judge’s third-inning turn began with a curveball. His fifth-inning at-bat started with a slider, one well off the plate that Judge whiffed at. In the eighth inning, Madson jammed him inside with a 93 mph fastball, and Judge did nothing more than foul it off.

The pitchers also stayed away from the fastball. Judge saw 14 pitches in his last three at-bats, and only five were fastballs. He didn’t see two fastballs in a row at any point.

There was reason for this -- namely Judge’s .748 slugging percentage entering the day in at-bats that end in fastballs and sinkers, sixth in the majors. But there aren’t actually any good alternatives. Judge’s .764 slugging percentage against breaking balls through Friday was the best in the majors.

There’s a school of thought that the best way to finish Judge is to try to get him to chase something atop the strike zone. But Oakland’s pitchers went a different route. Each of their three put-away pitches was in the lower third of the strike zone or below. The first was a slider that Judge chased. The second was a knee-high curveball that Judge missed. The last was a fastball just above the bottom of the strike zone that followed back-to-back curveballs.

It marked the third time that Judge had three strikeouts in a game within his past five games, so maybe teams are starting to figure something out with him. Prior to that, he had gone 20 outings without a three-strikeout game.