Not many New York Yankees are having career years in 2021. We’ve seen sluggers struggle at the plate and pitchers collapse in big moments. We’ve watched players make mental mistakes on the field and coaches miscalculate from the dugout. It hasn’t been the best of seasons, and the Yankees will need to play much better baseball in the second half if they want to qualify for the playoffs.
All of that being said, there is one Yankee who has played at an exceptionally high level all year—Aaron Judge. In fact, you could easily argue that Judge is having his best season since 2017. Here are his current stats and where he ranks on the team in each category:
Besides leading the Yankees in every meaningful offensive metric, Judge has played in 84 of the team’s 89 games. Only DJ LeMahieu (who has played in 85) has been in the lineup more than the big man. Between the numbers he’s posting and the amount of time that he’s spent on the diamond, Judge has clearly been the Yankees’ most impactful player.
Cynical fans could point out that it isn’t hard to be the best Yankee in 2021. Fair enough. But Judge isn’t only good when compared to this present group of Yankees. He’s playing some of the best baseball of his five-year career. His batting average is the highest it has been since 2017. His strikeout rate is lower than ever before. In terms of wOBA and wRC+, 2o21 is Judge’s best season since 2018.
One of the more interesting developments with Judge’s game has been his growing ability to punish pitches outside of the strike zone. Judge’s chase percentage (24.1%) is the highest of his career. However, his chase contact percentage is an incredible 50.5%. Previously, Judge had never made contact on more than 40% of his swings outside of the zone. Perhaps his newfound ability to hit balls off of the plate can help explain his much lower strikeout rate. Instead of whiffing on those pitches, he’s crushing them.
Hitting When It Counts
Yankee fans are continually frustrated by the squad’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position, and rightfully so. But, while the team hasn’t done a great job of getting runs across the plate, Judge certainly isn’t to blame. He’s hitting .277 with RISP, which is the best on the team. Judge’s wRC+ with RISP is 141 (first on the team) and his wOBA is .376 (also first on the team). In short, he’s doing damage when there’s traffic on the base paths. If a few more Yankees could follow Aaron’s lead, then the team could start climbing back into the playoff picture.
If the Yankees are going to make a serious run at the postseason, then Judge has to lead the way. He has solidified himself as the best player on the team. Now we get to see whether or not he can solidify himself as the leader of the team. The Yankees need somebody to rally the troops and jumpstart the club down the stretch. If Judge can do that, then it’ll be one of the biggest accomplishments of his career.