Two months into the MLB season, New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge shows no signs of slowing down.
Judge, the Yankees’ 25-year-old, 6-foot-7 outfielder, has taken the baseball world by storm by putting together one of the finest offensive seasons for a rookie for the red-hot, AL-East-leading Yankees.
Over the weekend, Judge took it to a new level, crushing two record-breaking home runs in back-to-back games to help the Yankees sweep the Orioles.
His first, in Saturday’s 16-3 win, set a new record for exit velocity in the Statcast-era, according to MLB.com, coming off his bat at 121 miles per hour.
Judge topped it on Sunday in a 14-3 win by launching a 495-foot home run, the longest recorded since ESPN began tracking distances in 2009.
It’s possible that players have hit home runs like these before, given the relative newness of exit velocity and distance tracking, but in the modern era, there hasn’t been hits like Judge’s.
Judge is now hitting .344 with a .450 OBP, .718 SLG, and 1.168 OPS. He has a league-leading 21 home runs on the year with 47 RBIs, putting him in the lead for the Triple Crown.
Furthermore, Judge’s monster season comes after a call-up in 2016 in which he hit just .179 and struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats. This year, Judge has cut his swing-and-miss rate considerably and is chasing pitches less frequently, according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield. Writes Schoenfield of Judge’s only weakness at the plate:
“The learning curve from last September to now is so impressive, especially his ability to lay off pitches he hacked away at last year. His chase rate is below the MLB average and his strikeout rate, while high, is manageable given his power production.”
The hot two months — long enough to no longer simply be considered a hot streak — has the baseball world whispering about Judge’s AL MVP candidacy.
Schoenfield believes if the vote were held today, Judge would win it. Sports Illustrated’s Jack Dickey writes that Judge “can reasonably be said to be the frontrunner” for the award.
He has the vote of Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner who said on Sunday, “He is leading the league in All-Star votes, and if the MVP were voted on today, he’d win that, too.”
Judge’s numbers figure to drop as the season goes on and as pitchers find new ways to throw to him. Still, his rise is remarkable, given that he was taken in the 31st round of the 2010 draft (and later a first-round pick in the 2013 draft) and many felt his size could be a deterrent at the plate.
Instead, as Yankees DH Matt Holliday said on Saturday, regardless of awards, Judge is only just getting started.
“People are going to see silly things from this guy, just keep watching. It’s just getting started. He’s gonna hit balls places no one has ever hit them.”