Aaron Judge is a powerful man. This I know because I have functioning eyes. You know going in that Judge is listed at 6’7” and 282 pounds, yet somehow he can still appear even bigger than that, especially when Ronald Torreyes is around. Scouts have long raved about the big right fielder’s raw power, and his batting practice sessions have already become appointment viewing, causing players on opposing teams to pause their warm up to watch.
Chase Headley described Judge’s BP saying “I've seen balls go farther than balls I have ever seen”. Prior to Sunday’s game Judge hit a ball that went well over the batter’s eye in center field and landed directly on the concourse. It is difficult to overstate this man’s physical strength.
Yet being large and hitting the ball far in batting practice does not guarantee the ability to hit the ball hard off of major league pitching. Luckily, with introduction of Statcast data, available through Baseball Savant, we can see exactly how hard Judge has been hitting the ball over his short time in the big leagues. After his call up last season, Judge put 43 balls in play. Over that small sample size Judge ranked as one of the game’s elite performers by exit velocity.
After adjusting for gaps in the data, Judge’s average exit velocity of almost 95 mph ranked first in MLB by over three full mph. His 100.2 mph average on fly balls and line drives was perhaps even more impressive. By maximum exit velocity, Judge’s 115.2 mph home run ranked near the top of a leaderboard led by frequent Judge comp and exit velocity overlord Giancarlo Stanton, who managed to hit a ball 123.9 mph.
However, while hard hit balls are more likely to become hits, direction, and especially launch angle also play roles. You could hit a ball 200 mph but if it went straight into the ground it would be useless. Encouragingly, Judge also posted an average launch angle towards the top of the league. Put it together and Judge was in a class of his own.
Now clearly, the problem with Judge’s 2016 was not the quality of contact, but the lack of contact. Judge compiled a truly appalling 44.2% strikeout rate over 95 plate appearances, but as chronicled here, he is off to a strong start in 2017, improving his contact numbers across the board and cutting his strikeout rate to 26.8% through Sunday.
Yet while Judge is making a lot more contact, its not like he’s shortening up to put the ball in play, maintaining his elite exit velocity. Through 25 balls in play Judge’s average exit velocity sits at 93.2 mph, but remove a 34.8 mph ground ball and his average shoots up to 95.8 mph. Here is a plot of Judge’s batted balls so far in 2017:
Those red dots are some absolute rockets. Have a look at the one behind second base in video form:
That ball nearly decapitated Ray’s pitcher Jumbo Diaz, coming off the bat at 116.5 mph, the fastest hit in the MLB to that point. Believe or not that isn’t even Judge’s hardest hit ball this season as he laced a grounder at 117.2 mph. His most impressive display of strength came on a fastball in off of the plate, which he somehow managed to deposit 437 feet away, to the opposite field:
Aaron Judge is by no means a complete player at this point in his career and he still has a lot to prove the major leagues. Yet what he has proven is that he can hit the ball far and he can hit the ball hard.
Data courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant