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Aaron Judge and the greatest walk(s) year

One of the least talked about parts of Judge’s season has been his dominance in walks.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Did you see what I did there? Aaron Judge is in his walk year in his contract, and he is walking at an absurd pace (should I go, now?). There has been a lot said about how he has hit huge amounts of home runs and that his batting average is way up. Attention to his dominance on most traditional and advanced metrics is well deserved. He tops the charts in most areas, with the only exception being a relatively high whiff rate and strikeout percentage.

However, not much attention has been paid to the fact that Judge is putting up huge walk numbers. Walks are incredibly important for helping to set up large scoring opportunities. With how much walking he has done lately, it seems like an appropriate time to look at just how spectacular his walk rate is. For instance, Baseball Savant has Aaron Judge in the 100th percentile for walk percentage.

Aaron Judge 2022 MLB Percentiles
Credit: Baseball Savant

Functionally, this means that he has been one of the absolute best walkers (this sounds awkward, maybe walk meisters?) in the entire league. Of course, this metric might be somewhat misleading. While Baseball Savant credits him as being in the top percentile for the league in walk percentage, this does not actually mean that he tops the league in walk percentage. In fact, noted walk aficionado, Juan Soto, holds the highest walk percentage in the league.

2022 MLB Ranked by Walk Percentage
Credit: Baseball Savant

There are reasons why Juan Soto is one of the absolute best players in baseball, and a 20.5 percent walk rate is certainly part of it. To whit, he has 134 walks during this season. The only person even close to Soto is Aaron Judge. While Judge’s walk percentage does not quite reach Soto’s, it remains excellent at 16.2 percent of the time. This results in 110 walks for him.

Apart from Soto and Judge, only Max Muncy is within spitting distance of those two. Muncy still has a great walk rate at 16.0 percent of the time, but his total number of walks trails the other two at just 88.

What’s particularly impressive about Judge’s ability to walk this year, is that he has not given up anything to maintain his ability to walk. We have seen how players can sacrifice some aggressiveness for patience. For instance, Aaron Hicks sometimes seems to sacrifice an at-bat to try and get a walk. As a result, he has a great walk rate at 13.3 percent of the time, with 58 walks. On the flip side is the fact that his slugging percentage sits at .324 with a batting average that sits at .224.

Aaron Judge has not sacrificed his ability to hit for power or average in his patient approach at the plate. This can be evidenced by the fact that he sits atop or near the top of most of the relevant statistical categories.

At the same time, this stands as a return to form for Judge. During the 2020 and 2021 seasons, his walk rate sunk considerably. During those years, he walked 8.8 and 11.8 percent of the time respectively — this contrasts with his career average walk rate of 15.0 percent. In fact, this is much closer to his transcendent 2017 season where he walked 18.7 percent of the time.

This return to form from Judge could not come at a better time for him. In the last year of his contract with the Yankees, he has a lot to play for. Literally, millions of dollars hangs in the balance. By increasing his walk percentage, Judge has increased the value of his play immensely. Patience will help Judge remain relevant as he ages and gets slower. While Judge might not quite manage to walk the most out of all of players, he has managed to increase his value to the Yankees by maintaining a great walk rate while not sacrificing power or average.