Batman taught me you either die a hero or you live long enough to become a villain. Baseball and covering the Yankees has taught me a similar notion – albeit without the high stakes of death. Aaron Judge is the unofficial captain of the New York Yankees and, for the most part, the sane have accepted this notion. Unfortunately, more at-bats don’t just qualify you for awards in Major League Baseball. It also gives a certain species of human a lot of time to whine.
There is a vocal minority who have taken up the burden of, for whatever reason, saying Judge has fallen off. (Well they haven’t used the words “fallen off.” It was more insinuated. When have cowards been direct though?) A combination of freak injuries and their 2018 PTSD have put a target on the captain’s back and I just won’t stand for it.
Now here’s the thing. It’s true that we haven’t seen a dominant stretch of Aaron Judge in a little while, but to downplay his significance to this team is asinine. Yes, Judge isn’t hitting home runs every other game but NOBODY is. What matters is he came back from an oblique injury and is still making hard contact. His power isn’t sapped and seeing Dominant Judge isn’t a matter of “if” but “when.”
The other night is a good indication that we might be close.
Now, before I get into those power numbers, let’s start with this. We can all agree everyone loves Mike Trout. We all say he’s elite. We all say he is better than most who have stepped on a field. There is no question about this.
Well, as it turns out, the Aaron Judge is Boring Crew should know he and Trout had very similar starts to their season:
First 38 games for Judge: 10 HR, 23 RBI, .304 AVG, .424 OBP, .548 SLG, .972 OPS
First 38 games for Trout: 9 HR, 25 RBI, .288 AVG, .458 OBP, .568 SLG, 1.026 OPS
And in comparison, the big free agent acquisitions of the winter:
First 38 for Harper: 7 HR, 25 RBI, .235 AVG, .381 OBP, .463 SLG, .844 OPS
First 38 for Machado: 8 HR, 19 RBI, .237 AVG, .316 OBP, .432 SLG, .748 OPS
But Aaron Judge doesn’t have the same power?!
One of the big critiques I’ve heard is that Aaron Judge’s power just isn’t the same. Whoever said that is correct. (Granted they were insulting the captain.) Judge is actually smacking the ball harder than he ever has in his career. This is why I have to reiterate it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” for a Judge tear.
2017: AVG Exit Velocity: 94.9MPH (Top 1% in the league); Hard Hit %: 54.7% (Top 1% in the league)
2018: AVG Exit Velocity: 94.7 MPH (Top 1% in the league); Hard Hit %: 54.1% (Top 1% in the league)
2019: AVG Exit Velocity: 98 MPH; Hard Hit %: 62.9%
1.) Aaron Judge: 98 MPH 2.) Christian Yelich: 94.2 MPH 3.) Nelson Cruz: 941 MPH 4.) Joey Gallo: 93.6 MPH 5.) Alex Dickerson: 93. MPH
Now the leaderboards for Statcast in terms of Hard Hit % goes by how many hits you have. Obviously Aaron Judge is closer to the bottom of the list because he only has 56. Of course, of those 56 hits, 62.9% have been Hard Hits. Nobody atop the leaderboards even has close to that ratio. As a matter of fact, of the top 395 players, only Judge has a Hard Hit percentage in the 60’s. Rafael Devers has 153 hits and 49.4% have been Hard Hits. 50.2% of Cody Bellinger‘s 141hits have been Hard Hit and our very own DJ LeMahieu has had 45.7% of his 139 hits go for hard hits.
The one area where Judge hasn’t beaten his personal best (yet) this year is his Barrel %*. In 2017 his Barrel was 25.7%. That put him in the Top 1% in the league that year. This year it’s 20.2% and it’s up from last year where he was in the top 2% of the league with a 16.2% Barrel.
*Barrel Definition from MLB.com: To be Barreled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner Barreled classification. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands.
Judge hits too many singles
Cue the Sponge Bob meme there. To this I say so what? At the risk of sounding TOO scientific here, Singles = Hits and Hits = Pretty Dope. Let’s say he hits a ton of singles this year. Isn’t that better than striking out? What has been perceived to be a lack of power might actually be the gradual evolution of Aaron Judge as a hitter.
2017: K%: 30.7%; Contact %: 67.6%
2018: K%: 30.5%; Contact %: 65.9%
2019: K% 28.3%; Contact % 68.4%
These aren’t exciting changes by any means. It’s a tick up from where they usually are though and an upward trend is an upward trend. It’s worth keeping an eye on for now.
But hey, something is a little off with Judge
Aaron Judge’s launch angle is lower.
Maybe it’s something that will raise with time? Maybe it’s something that has changed in his game? Maybe he feels this is an effective way to strike out less? Maybe we should just file this under “Wait and see”?
If Judge can stay healthy – and that’s something we learned isn’t guaranteed in the era of Next Man Up – we’ll see that our captain had a great year.