Aaron Judge has the look of a superhero. He’s 6-7, 282 pounds, and both measurements seem conservative when you see him up close. But in 2022, Judge has not only looked like a superhero, he’s actually been one as he destroys baseballs and chases MLB’s hallowed 60-homer mark.
But lest one think Judge’s season has been a one-note effort, a look at his overall numbers shows he’s been about as complete a hitter as the Yankees or any other team could want.
After belting two more home runs Tuesday night against the Red Sox in Boston, bringing his season total to 57, Judge leads the American League not just in long balls, but in runs, RBIs, walks, intentional walks, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. He’s also hitting .310 coming into play Wednesday, nearly 30 points better than his previous career high.
But, yes, the home runs are what have people talking, and for good reason.
He’s on pace to fly by the 60-homer mark, which would make him just the sixth player in MLB history to reach or pass that total. But if you want to remove a few steroid-laced asterisks, which a lot of people would really love to do (but which won’t happen), he would be just the third player to do it. And he would join a club occupied exclusively by Yankees, joining Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.
But as impressive and exciting as his chase for 60 has been, Judge has been about a lot more than long balls.
He’s getting on base at a .414 clip as of Wednesday, his highest rate since 2017. His slugging percentage is approaching .700, nearly 150 points higher than last season and is easily the best of his career. He’s already matched his career-high in hits (158) and is galloping toward 400 total bases, which hasn’t been done since 2001. He even has a career-high 16 stolen bases. So, basically, he’s been a run-creating machine.
But what’s behind the surge? Why has Judge gone nuclear this season? A few reasons.
Judge’s average exit velocity this season is nearly 96 mph. That’s the best in baseball. And his barrel percentage, hard hit percentage and expected slugging percentage are all in baseball’s 100th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. (Wait, the 100th percentile? Is that even possible?) It all points to one thing: Judge hits the ball extremely hard, even when it doesn’t go over the fence. And when you do that, the hits usually just keep on comin’. Not to mention that Judge’s whiff rate of 28.9 percent is the lowest of his career.
One big reason for Judge’s surging homer numbers is because he’s hitting the ball in the air a lot more than usual. His fly ball percentage is around 39 percent, 10 points higher than last season, and is also easily the highest of his career. When you combine that with his 15 degree average launch angle, his highest in a 162-game season since 2017, and throw in a career-high barrel percentage of nearly 26 percent, that’s gonna lead to lots of dingers.
And before the naysayers suggest that Judge’s large homer total is mostly driven by Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, well, the numbers just don’t bear that out. Judge is hitting to the opposite field at a rate of around 22 percent, his lowest ever across a full season. And his expected home run total is 56, according to Baseball Savant, just one fewer than his actual total. Further, nearly 58 percent of his homers have been no-doubers, according to Savant. In other words, most of his homers so far would’ve been gone anywhere.
So, yes, Judge has been the total package for the Yankees in 2022. He’s been worth 9 bWAR, the best mark in baseball. Even without reaching 60 homers, his 2022 campaign has been a top-shelf performance, and it’s made him a front-runner for American League MVP. There’s really only one guy to beat — fellow superhero Shohei Ohtani.
But Judge’s consistency with the bat and his tendency to launch prodigious moonshots will certainly give voters a lot to think about as he leads the Yankees on the path to the postseason.