As the Yankees were batting practice before the series opener at Dodger Stadium last month, Eric Kalos settled behind the cage. For 14 years as a major leaguer and 20 more as a television analyst, he would arrive on the field early to see just three batters: Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Giancarlo Stanton. It was to be.
Now he was looking to add a fourth player to his power list, Aaron Judge.
However, the show that Kalos had hoped for did not materialize. Instead, the judges tapped the ball around the field, working on “barrel accuracy.” While Bonds, Maguire and Stanton entertained thousands of spectators with one-dimensional long-range focus during batting practice, the judges grappled with the details like the short game and outfield defense before picking up the bat. often spend time on
“I never wanted to be just an offensive player who could only hit, a player who was responsible for defense,” Judge said in a clubhouse conversation the next day. “Because I know other players on the field, especially guys on the mound, are going all out. He’s going to be out there, making the pitch, trying to get the outs out.”
He added, “I can help him by saving a run or blocking runners on defense, and that will help us win the ball game.”
The Yankees are set to start the second half of the season as a visitor to the Colorado Rockies on Friday, but Judges is working to return from the injured list, though no date has been set for his return. One of the biggest questions for judges and the Yankees alike is how much a player who deeply values his versatility can contribute with something other than the bat.
It’s a strange question to ask about a player who hit 62 home runs last season and nearly won the American League Triple Crown. But since Judge’s debut in 2016, he’s earned a reputation as a surprisingly good outfielder and athlete. His athleticism may have been underestimated last year. During his record-breaking season, he played effectively as a center fielder from his usual right field position, finishing second with the Yankees with 16 stolen bases.
All those home runs earned Judge his first AL Most Valuable Player award, a nine-year, $360 million contract, the title of Yankees captain, and a clear commitment to improving his defense. Entering 2023 with determination. Until he crashed into the wall at Dodger Stadium and tore the ligaments in his right big toe, his play improved to such an extent that nightly highlight reels are likely to feature as great a catch as the tape shows. Had – measure the explosion.
It seemed like he was on track to win his first Gold Glove.
Five days before that shocking play that exploded in Los Angeles finished He used his 6-foot-7, 282-pound stature to cross an 8-foot-high wall in Seattle and steal a home run from Mariners’ Teoscar Hernandez when he climbed over the outfield wall to get a slugging out of JD Martinez. . .
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, “The two catches we see in Aaron Judge will highlight Lille 50 years from now.” “All in the same week. We’re going to keep an eye on them for a long time.”
But the wall-breaking catch in Los Angeles was an unfortunate example of the judge’s determination and fearlessness combined with the anxiety of the rest of the ball world every time he left his feet. Judge was sidelined with an injury early in his career, leaving some to fear that his massive frame could break at any moment.
“He was always a good defender. “He’s a good mover, but he makes me nervous sometimes when he takes his feet off to find the right way to land. He’s a big guy, you know.”
He told reporters he wouldn’t consider surgery on his toe during the season, but acknowledged the judges may need to fix it in the offseason. And since the pain remains even if the baseball activity goes into full swing, there is a possibility that it will be limited to the designated hitter for the time being. That would give the Yankees one of the most dangerous hitters of the game back, but it would create confusion in positions Stanton and others had already placed.
The team’s defensive prowess was also a challenge for Judges, especially given that these two sensational catches didn’t even showcase Judge’s greatest weapon, a powerful pitching arm that ranks No. 1 in the world rankings. will be much worse than 89th percentile of major leaguersaccording to Baseball Savant.
According to Sports Info Solutions, from 2016 until the day he landed at IL, Judge finished second in the majors with 58 runs scored on the right wing despite playing only 11 innings. Only Mookie Betts, a six-time Gold Glover Award winner, has done better.
Nineteen of the points saved by the judges were due to the arm. This total ranks first among right fielders. In this metric, SportsInfo His Solutions credits fielder throw-outs and runners who hold balls thrown by players.
Yankees All-Star Gerrit Cole said, “He’s so solid at putting the ball up front and throwing it to right base and making a lot of accurate throws that it just goes unnoticed a lot.” Here’s what the star right-hander had to say about the judges: “And he plays great with the best players. He’s just a solid above-average outfielder, and that’s the most impressive part.”
In addition, Judges have mastered the art of playing at Yankee Stadium, known as the launch pad for home runs to the right.
“The question as to whether he can play right field at Yankee Stadium is because a ball hit over his head would probably go out of bounds,” said Marc Simon, a research and analytics expert at the association. said. Scope of sports information solutions. “So he can play there differently than at other parks.”
The judges were aware of this and played it to their full advantage.
“I think there are certain situations, especially in the home and right field seats, where if a runner can be stopped from going to second base and held on first base, the pitcher may get a grounder or a double play.” You’re out instead of being on second base,” said the judge.
Martinez’s liner had no Yankee Stadium elements. It didn’t make it out of the park, but the judges jumped and caught it. Dodger Stadium groundskeeper Dominic Guerrero said the force of the impact ripped the metal gate latch from the wall.
Martinez kept shaking his head, as did Hernández, who was still wise a week after the Judges home run heist.
“Next time I have to hit harder and farther,” Hernández declared with a smile, laughing at a Twitter exchange with the judges.
“He plays the game the right way,” Hernández said. “He’s what everyone thinks he is. There’s no reason he won MVP last year.”
Who knows if that version of Judge will return this season. Even if his contributions were limited to what he could do with an oversized maple bat, his presence in the lineup would be a huge upgrade for the Yankees. But for the judges, not being able to play the highlight reel on defense would be missing out on one of the best compliments a player can get.
“For me, it’s just a high-five from the pitcher,” he said of what he gets from a great play. “Things like that are always great when you come back into the dugout. There’s someone who appreciates you hitting the ball into the gap, smashing home runs, throwing players. I just got a little gesture from the pitcher because I know he’s doing it.”
He added, “It’s all about seeing them take the time to say thank you and get locked up again.”
The Yankees will be able to leverage every aspect of Judge’s game as they go for their 31st straight season win and seventh consecutive postseason title, and will be delighted to have him back in high fives soon.