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Yankees’ Pink-Sizzling Aaron Decide Is Trending Towards One other House Run Report Chase in 2024

Only one American League hitter has ever broken his own single-season home run record. It was Babe Ruth…because of course it was.

But is it premature to wonder if Aaron Judge will join the Bambino by the end of 2024?

There’s at least one good reason to answer with a resounding “yes,” and it has to do with how Judge is behind the pace he set for himself when he surpassed both Ruth and Roger Maris by mashing 62 homers in 2022.

Whereas he had 25 through the New York Yankees’ first 62 games that year, he’s at 21 homers at the same point now in 2024. He’s on pace for “only” 55 home runs, and that’s assuming he goes 162-for-162 in games played.

Still, consider yourself warned not to put another record pursuit past the 2022 AL MVP.

As you may have heard, Judge is hot right now. As in, very hot. As in, as hot as he was at his hottest point two seasons ago. It took him until July and August 2022 to go deep 15 times in a 25-game span. He just did that between May 5 and June 1.

“He’s in such a good place,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after the 32-year-old collected his MLB-leading 21st homer on Saturday in San Francisco. “The difference between him and most other guys is, when guys get hot and hit it off the barrel, they rack up some hits. When he gets hot and hits it off the barrel, it’s in the seats. It’s fun to keep watching that.”

If it still feels early to start anxiously checking box scores every morning to see if Judge homered the night before, well, that’s fair. Maybe if he gets to, say, 30 homers before the end of June.

Which, given just how many things are powering Judge these days, is very much doable.

What Judge Is Gaining from the Yankees’ Lineup

Everything else being equal, batters prefer to see pitches in the strike zone. And Judge is no different, as 262 of his 278 career homers come off pitches in the zone.

As such, he must love that he’s seeing more pitches in the zone than he did in 2022:

  • 2022: 45.7 percent
  • 2024: 48.4 percent

There are only so many viable explanations for this, and one of them definitely isn’t that opposing pitchers are no longer intimidated by Judge. He’s two years older, sure, but he’s still a 6’7″, 282-pound Leviathan who (spoilers for the next section) is still crushing the ball.

It’s more sensible to chalk the extra strikes up to what’s around him from his post in the No. 3 spot in New York’s lineup.

Typically in front of him are Anthony Volpe, who has a .350 OBP, and Juan Soto, whose OPB is a sturdy .418. It’s thus no coincidence that Judge has taken 49 percent of his plate appearances with runners on base, compared to 44 percent in 2022.

This equals more chances for Judge to swing the bat, as pitchers have naturally been less inclined to pitch around him with men on base. To do that comes with the risk of willfully putting even more traffic on the bases. It’s better to challenge him, even if he is Aaron Judge.

It’s likewise not surprising that his rate of pitches in the zone has been higher since April gave way to May. That’s when Alex Verdugo supplanted Giancarlo Stanton in the No. 4 spot. He’s been a better protector for Judge, posting a .714 OPS in the cleanup spot compared to Stanton’s .514 OPS.

What Judge Is Gaining from His Own Swing

Back in 2022, a standard fly ball off Judge’s bat traveled 311 feet. So far in 2024, that figure is 318 feet.

That’s right: seven feet farther.

This is surprising only until one notices he is simply hitting the ball harder this year, to the tune of an additional 1.1 mph in exit velocity over his average from 2022.

Yet the story here isn’t just about quality. It’s also about quantity.

Whereas ground balls accounted for 37.3 percent of Judge’s batted balls in 2022, that figure is down to 31.6 percent in 2024. Which is a good thing, because no slugger ever hit a ground ball and held out hope that it would find its way to the bleachers.

What Judge Is Gaining from His Adjustments

Until recently, one thing the right-handed-hitting Judge hadn’t been doing as well in 2024 is using his pull side by hitting the ball to left field.

This only matters so much for a guy who has huge power to all fields, but there should be no mistake that it does matter. Judge slugs .990 when he hits the ball to left field, with two-thirds of the fly balls he’s ever hit in that direction resulting in home runs.

However, you’ll note this section began with the words “Until recently.”

By the time Boone was threatening to swap Soto and Judge in the batting order on May 2, Judge had pulled only two fly balls in the process of posting a .725 OPS and six homers through 33 games. His swing just wasn’t right.

Apparently all he needed, though, was extra input from hitting coach James Rowson. Judge’s swing came back online accordingly, and all the loud contact isn’t the only tell. He’s pulled eight fly balls in 28 games since May 3, all but one of which has gone for a homer.

So, Will Judge Break His Own Home Run Record?

The safer, more honest play here is to predict that Judge won’t even reach 60 homers, much less 62.

That there have been only nine 60-homer seasons in MLB history confirms the odds are generally against such things. The odds are even further against a hitter crossing the 60-homer threshold more than once. Only Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have done that, and they had (ahem) help.

Plus, nobody can say Judge isn’t an injury risk. The torn toe ligament that sidelined him for six weeks last season is still an issue. Plus, it was only a couple weeks ago when both the toe injury and the abdominal discomfort that sidelined him during spring training were under the microscope amid his chilly start.

But then there’s the more interesting prediction that, somehow, isn’t actually a long shot: Screw it, Judge will break his own home run record.

Apropos of everything outlined above, he might be underachieving as a home run hitter. Whereas he actually has 21 homers, Statcast posits he should have 22.

And if one can look beyond the concern of him not staying healthy, there basically aren’t reasons to doubt Judge can keep this up. He isn’t just swinging a hot stick relative to his own standards. Some Statcast metrics (i.e., xSLG and xwOBA) rate this version of Judge as the most dangerous hitter of the last 10 years.

Everyone should be on notice, up to and including the record-setting Aaron Judge of two years ago.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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