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Despite some hiccups, Aaron Judge is off to a strong start

A lot of Yankees fans are frustrated with the team’s sluggish start to the 2021 season. The Yanks have lost three out of their first four series, and they look a bit lost out on the diamond. We’ve seen poor defense, inconsistent pitching, and the same failures to hit with runners in scoring position that have haunted the team for several seasons.

All that being said, there have definitely been some positive takeaways from the Yankees’ first twelve games. Gerrit Cole is pitching like the ace that he is, and Gary Sanchez seems to be finding his way again after a difficult 2020 season. The bullpen has been solid as well, thanks to strong performances from both familiar and unfamiliar faces.

Amidst all of these competing storylines (both positive and negative), Aaron Judge’s excellent April has managed to fly under the radar. Judge primarily garnered attention due to his mysterious health status, and a few uncharacteristic defensive miscues have also caught the eyes of concerned Yankee fans. Putting those hiccups aside, however, Judge has had a solid start to the 2021 season.

Judge By the Numbers

Judge has appeared in ten of the Yankees’ first twelve games. In those ten contests he has recorded 44 plate appearances and posted the following numbers:

  • 4 Home Runs
  • 7 RBI
  • .308 BA
  • .386 OBP
  • 1.002 OPS
  • 184 OPS+

Setting aside home runs and RBI, Judge’s noncumulative stats show a marked improvement over last season. In fact, his 2021 numbers aren’t too far off from where they were in 2017, when he placed second in AL MVP voting. It’s obviously early, but Judge looks to be more locked in at the plate than he has in quite a while.

Much of Judge’s early success can be traced to improved plate discipline. One aspect of that improved plate discipline has been Aaron’s unwillingness to chase pitches out of the zone. The flip side of Judge’s low chase rate is that he’s making pitchers pay when they catch too much of the plate. Judge’s chase percentage is the lowest it has been in five seasons, and his zone contact rate is higher than it has ever been before:

Year Chase % Zone Contact %
2017 22.5% 77%
2018 21% 73.9%
2019 22.7% 76%
2020 22.9% 80.1%
2021 19.8% 89.8%

It goes without saying that hitters make better contact on pitches in the zone. Thus, it is unsurprising that Judge’s selective approach at the plate is allowing him to square up pitches at a very impressive clip. His barrel percentage of 19.1% is better than 91% of all Major League hitters.

Contact Equals Power

Judge is one of the biggest, strongest players in the game. When he stays in the zone and makes solid contact, the ball is going to go a long way quickly. Judge is currently in the top 1% of the league for average exit velocity (98.6 mph), the top 5% of the league for hard hit percentage (61.3%), and the top 8% of the league for expected slugging percentage (.694). Put simply, he’s mashing the baseball.

Trust Judge to Hit

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the 2021 Yankees. In fact, there are still some questions surrounding Judge, namely his ability to stay on the field. But one thing that we shouldn’t question is his ability to do damage at the dish. If Aaron Judge is in the lineup, then we can trust him to make valuable contributions to the team’s offensive effort.