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Aaron Judge has raised his level that the “only” qualifier now goes ahead only to spray a few doubles at over 100 mph.
He has made the game so remarkably simple, especially recently, that “only” – that word again – increasing his chances of winning the Triple Crown feels like a half measure. Of course, the Pirates – because they are the Pirates – have been striving to provide as many chances as possible for a 61st home run in Judge’s glorious season.
Judge was the eighth batter to bat for the Yankees final in the eighth inning Wednesday. The Pirates hacked and he got to his feet for his two-pronged reception at the stadium – with each fan cheering and echoing ‘MVP’.
“Tonight felt like I was waiting for the big moment,” Aaron Boone said enjoying the atmosphere. But southpaw Eric Stout threw four pitches that would have landed in the Bronx, but far from the strike zone. The judge therefore intentionally unintentionally walked and was called out for pinch runner Tim Locastro.
So he didn’t take a step towards Roger Maris, 61 home runs in 1961 and instead worked towards Mickey Mantle, 1956 and the Triple Crown. Judge finished the game hitting an AL-best .317 over Boston’s Xander Bogaerts .3166 while also leading the universe in home runs and RBIs. His slash line of .317/.421/.705 hasn’t improved in every category since Barry Bonds in 2004 (fill in your own morals here).
But back to after Judge was taken out and Anthony Rizzo flew out. Gleyber Torres hit a three-run homer – his second homer of the eighth inning. It was mostly cosmetic because he made the Yankees 14-2 final against a Pirates team that came to New York and went six games winless and defines terribly. Judge, however, also scored after his two doubles – via a grand slam from Oswaldo Cabrera in the first inning and an RBI single from Torres in the fifth.
One question that has hovered and will hover over the Yankees is if opponents shun Judge, will other roster members make him a costly pick?
Among the many tendencies forged by the analytic revolution is the gradual death of intentional walking. At the extreme, AJ Hinch’s 2019 Astros didn’t throw an intentional walk before Game 2 of the World Series against Juan Soto.
Some of the death is natural — with the batting pitchers retired, there’s no longer a decoy to walk the eighth batter past the pitcher. However, the theory is mostly about not putting runners on base unless it’s blatant – sometimes not even then. The 434 intentional passes this year (through Tuesday) are by far the fewest in a full season in the division era (since 1969). It was, for example, 1,452 20 years ago – 68 of them went to Barry Bonds the year after he set the circuit record with 73.
In 2004, Bonds was intentionally walked a record 120 times – the entire AL East had only been intentionally walked 90 times by 2022. In 2004, Bonds was the sport’s most destructive force, and the two players who hit most regularly behind him, Edgardo Alfonzo and Pedro Feliz, were no good.
But in 2022, the concept of “protection” has also faded. In the non-judge department, the Yankees were plagued with significant lineup injuries and poor production for part of the second half. Still, the opposition mainly attacked Judge. Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, who had 10 more homers than anyone on his team, actually led the Majors with 18 intentional walks to 17 for Judge, who has 20 more homers than anyone else in the Majors.
One of the reasons Boone beats the first judge is to try to coerce the opposing team into throwing at him. Rizzo, who hits second most often to Judge, said he was aware he was going to face more RBI situations. But he said it didn’t change his striking approach or put more pressure on him. Said Torres: “Of course when you’re behind him you want to do the job for the team.”
The previous two times a Yankee hit 60 home runs, the co-stars who beat the cleanup behind Babe Ruth and Maris made sure they got pitches to hit. Lou Gehrig probably had his best season in 1927 when Ruth went for 60. Gehrig hit 47 homers and drove in 173 runs. Gehrig’s oblique line with the runners in scoring position was 0.402/0.502/0.793.
All about Aaron Judge and his pursuit of the home run record:
Mickey Mantle had arguably his second-best season after his 1956 Triple Crown in 1961. Mantle threw a record 54 homers that year. With runners in the scoring position, it was .365 / .490 / .907 — the .907 hitting percentage is third-best in those situations in major league history after two questionable Bonds campaigns (2001, 2004).
Seventeen of the 18 best OPS seasons in Yankees history with runners in the scoring position (minimum 100 plate appearances) belong to Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. The other? It’s Judge this year at 1.303.
The problem, of course, is that Judge can’t kick behind Judge. It’s Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Torres and Josh Donaldson – maybe DJ LeMahieu again at some point.
In the playoffs, can we assume teams will take Judge out of the game and force others to beat them? It’s hard to imagine the Yankees winning their first championship since 2009 unless a few non-Judge hitters do in the big moments what Judge has throughout the season.
All stand up.
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