What do you do when one of the most prolific rookie catchers in history hits the disabled list the first week into his sophomore campaign? How do you replace the bat of Gary Sanchez, a bat that produced 20 home runs in 53 games? Well, if you’re the New York Yankees you just throw Aaron Judge out there and let that giant mash baseballs all over the Bronx.
Aaron Judge just brought home AL rookie of the Month honors on the back of 10 dingers and a .303 average. He launched the hardest hit home run ball since they started tracking the stat at 119.4 MPH, his 13 home runs through 25 games were the most ever by a rookie, and has drawn comparisons to Derek Jeter. So what happened to the guy whose 2016 featured a 44% K rate and a .179 average in 84 at bats?
Well one thing he did was change his swing. Standing at 6’7, Aaron Judge has a a huge strike zone to cover. To combat this Judge shortened the path of his hands to the ball which allowed the barrel of his bat to carry through the zone longer and cut down on that horrific strikeout percentage. Then he ditched the leg kick he had going in order to improve his timing. It’s tough to get all the moving parts of that 6’7 body in sync, so going with a quieter front half makes his timing easier.
Note the lack of a leg kick and his short, compact swing.
The efficient path to the ball plus the added time in the zone has allowed Judge to cut down his fly balls and strikeouts. Now he’s launching liners at 19.7% clip compared to 14% year ago, and when you’re setting statcast records, plenty of those line drives are leaving the yard. His quiet front half also allows his head to stay in place to see the ball better and keep his huge limbs in place to crush the ball. Judge is so big that all he needs to do is find the barrel. He doesn’t need to get his entire body moving into the swing to be a monstrous slugger. As long as he takes a nice efficient path with his hands and keeps his lower half engaged without the leg kick he has more than enough power to send balls out of Yankee Stadium.
The Yankee slugger is showing MVP potential through the first month. I mean he is on pace to take Barry Bonds precious single season home run record. I doubt he’ll accomplish either, but it’s always fun to speculate. He will go through rough patches here and there as pitchers adjust to him, But he has already shown the ability to adapt.
That’s a scary thought for American League pitchers.
Brendan Kuty | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com. “Scout Explains Latest Drastic Change in Yankees’ Aaron Judge’s Swing (VIDEO).” NJ.com. N.p., 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.
Sawchik, Travis. “Aaron Judge’s Breakout Began in March, Perhaps Earlier.” FanGraphs Baseball. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.
All statistics are from Fangraphs.com