Aaron Judge is a 6"7 270+ lb Right Fielder who resembles Rob Gronkowski more than he does Paul O'Neill. His name has been bouncing around Yankees circles for a few years, but he is finally banging on the Yankee Stadium doors for a call up to the bigs. The question on Yankee fans' minds is whether Aaron will indeed lay the hammer down, or be sentenced to a career of mediocrity in the Bronx.
For some insight into the future, I've analyzed the past - watching plenty of AAA games over the past two years and gaining an appreciation for the gargantuan slugger's hitting style. So what can we expect at the plate from the Judge?
Hitting Attribute #1: All fields. A Jeter-ian inside-out swing with the hitting profile of Giancarlo Stanton
This is something you will notice and appreciate with subtle delight. Aaron Judge is NOT a dead pull hitter. This is important in an MLB era where defensive shifts have crippled hitters who may have thrived in years past. Look no further than Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann, two current Yankees, who have seen their batting averages plummet due to teams placing infielders in the outfield. This will not be possible with Aaron Judge. He has a remarkably level swing with most of his fly ball contact going towards center, and an almost even split to left/right field (see below). His inside-out swing to opposite field resembles that of Derek Jeter
But what about all the Giancarlo Stanton comparisons? Oh yes, we will get there. Aaron Judge is a power hitter and his spray chart looks a lot like that of Giancarlo Stanton (see below)
The above chart is beautiful. It really brings the Stanton/Judge comparison to life. The difference is that Judge actually has a more balanced swing, hitting more to center and peppering a few more doubles.
A comp that I've seen that I want to dis-spell is the one likening top prospect Joey Gallo to Aaron Judge. First off - Gallo is rated higher than Judge on most prospect lists. I think that ranking is nonsense and it will play out over time. I'd say Gallo profiles as an even more pull-heavy hitter than Chris Davis. Judge is not boom or bust - he has gone through a few slumps but is really an advanced hitter with more tricks in his bag. Check out the below comparsion of Joey Gallo / Chris Davis and review in context of Judge / Stanton.
MLB Comparison: Judge blends a Jeterian swing with the spray chart and power of Giancarlo Stanton. He isn't a pull-happy Chris Davis / Joey Gallo type. This will become apparent to Yankee fans over time
Hitting Attribute #2: Taking Lots of Pitches "P/PA"
A stat that is often overlooked, but immeasurably valuable in baseball is the number of pitches that a batter takes per plate appearance, otherwise known as "P/PA" (Pitches/Plate Appearances). Aaron Judge has seen a REMARKABLE 4.14 pitches per plate appearance in 2016 - a number that he has increased since 2015, when he clocked in at 4.04 P/PA. Taking pitches is an indicator of a patient hitter who wears down opposing pitchers and can recognize what he wants to do at the plate
Let's put that number into context - here are some of the top P/PA in the MLB as of August 5, 2016:
1. Mike Napoli (4.50)
2. Mike Trout (4.37)
10. Justin Upton (4.13)
12. Brett Gardner (4.08)
14. Brian McCann (4.05)
Based on his AAA numbers, Judge would rank in the top-10 in the MLB. Think about that for a moment. Gardner and McCann of the Yankees have been lauded during their careers for battling in at-bats and being tough outs. Adding Judge to the Yankees lineup will pile onto opposing SP pitch counts. An under-rated, highly valuable attribute.
MLB Comparison: Judge has the patience profile of Brett Gardner / Brian McCann
Hitting Attribute #3: Improving Strikeouts and grounders to 3B/SS
This is the underbelly. Judge strikes out quite a bit, and has a knack for grounding out to 3B/SS despite his penchant for hitting to all fields otherwise. There is reason for optimism though. Judge's aforementioned plate discipline and increasing P/PA has helped him be more selective at the plate.
From a strikeout perspective, Judge has improved his AAA strikeout rate from 28.5% in 2015 to 23.3% in 2016. He is also walking more. He's moving in the right direction on the strikeout front and is reportedly very coachable. I'll take that as a negative that is looking up.
The grounders to 3B/SS are a bit concerning, and the potential for an elevated number of double plays in crucial situations is there. Digging deeper here as well - Judge has actually DRAMATICALLY improved is Groundout/Fly-out ratio (dividing ground outs into flyouts - a lower number indicates a higher proportion of fly outs, a higher number indicates a higher proportion of groundouts)
Ground-out / Fly-out Ratio Over Time
Judge is striking out less, and putting the ball on the ground less. This is the direction he is heading in as a hitter.
MLB Comparison: Strikeouts aren't a death sentence, but he needs to improve. Mark Trumbo would be a conservative comparison here with similar stats in 2016. 0.80 GO/FO ratio and a 27.9% strikeout rate. Judge needs to carry his improvement into the big leagues.
Hitting Attribute #4: Easy Power, Improving Slugging Percentage
Judge doesn't need to be a lefty to hit home runs at Yankee Stadium. This isn't a guy who barely hits them over the wall. When he gets a hold of a pitch, it will go out at any stadium. It's a shame Judge was injured during the 2016 minor league home run derby - he would have put on a show.
Judge has improved his doubles and HR output in AAA, going from .448 in 2015 to .473 in 2016, leading the International League in HR until he was put on the DL a couple weeks back. There's no question he has power to all fields
So what can we expect?
Judge is the real deal and I believe he is actually under-rated as an MLB prospect. Pundits have put too much stock into his perceived weaknesses (strikeouts, big strike zone, grounders to left side of infield) and not enough merit into his elite P/PA stats and steady improvement in strikeout propensity and power output.
Look for a combination of Brett Gardner's grittiness at the plate, a Jeter-like inside-out swing, the GO/FO and strikeout profile of Mark Trumbo and the raw power/aggression of Giancarlo Stanton. While it may be too early to crown Judge as the next Yankees captain, it is not a stretch to expect Judge to be the centerpiece of the Yankees post-2016 core.Image Credit to y Arturo Pardavila on Flickr (Original version)UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons