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The underappreciated aspect of Aaron Judge’s game

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With all of the attention he draws when he’s in the batter’s box, his exceptional defense tends to get overlooked.

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When you hear Aaron Judge’s name, you probably think of his 6-foot-7 frame, and the monster power he’s used to slug homers left and right throughout his career (mostly right in 2019, if you know what I’m saying). You might now think about his 100th career home run, and how few games he needed to ascend to that milestone. Heck, maybe you even think of him having one of the more famous “tooth gaps” in the history of New York sports, right along Michael Strahan, of course. Whatever comes to your mind, there’s one thing that tends to fly under the radar, and that’s his defense in right field.

Judge has been exceptional at patrolling right field for the Yankees his entire major league career. He’s undoubtedly among the best in the game. Out of all right fielders in the big leagues, Judge has the third-most defensive runs saved in 2019 with 12, and tied for the most in the American League with fellow rival, Mookie Betts.

Betts is coming off an MVP season, and has been awarded with a gold glove in each of the previous three seasons. In order to see how they stack up against each other this year, I compared them using some advanced fielding metrics: DRS, rARM, OOA, and UZR. If you have no idea what those are, I’ll provide you with a brief explanation courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

Defensive Runs Saved, or DRS, indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position. Outfield Arms Runs Saved, or rARM, evaluates an outfielder’s throwing arm based on how often runner advance on base hits and are thrown out trying to take extra bases. Outs Above Average (OOA) is the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, per Statcast, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them.

Finally, UZR puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess, and Range Rating calculates the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity.

Aaron Judge vs. Mookie Betts

Stat Judge Betts
Stat Judge Betts
DRS 12 12
rARM 2 2
OOA 3 6
UZR 10.1 8.6
RngR 4.8 4.7
Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts’ advanced defensive metrics in 2019.

As you can see, Judge is right there with Betts, who’s considered by many to be the best defensive corner outfielder in the game, across the board in terms of advanced defensive statistics. To put the numbers into perspective a little more, Betts has played in 1114.1 innings in the field, compared to Judge’s 587.1. Without his oblique injury earlier in the season, the Yankee outfielder would almost certainly fare even better in counting stats such as DRS, UZR, and OOA.

Putting Betts to the side, let’s take a look at where Judge stands against his other fellow right fielders. As stated previously, he has the third-most defensive runs saved with 12, and is tied for the most in the American League. His powerful arm places him at the top of the list in terms of rARM, behind only Leury Garcia. However, no one is ahead of “BAJ” in UZR, as his 10.1 is the highest of any right fielder in the AL. Judge also ranks top three in range rating.

Number 99 has also accomplished some personal-bests, and is approaching some more career-highs on the defensive side of the ball in 2019. His glove work goes unnoticed most of the time because of his eye-popping power, but it’s time the league takes notice.