On Sunday afternoon, Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge had five plate appearances, putting the ball in play three times. In the first inning, he drilled a pitch from Daniel Lynch 453 feet over the center field wall with a 113.5 mph exit velocity. In the ninth, he had another home run, launching a 98 mph fastball 395 feet at 106.8 mph. Between them, in the seventh, he made contact with the ball on a check swing, sending it a whopping four feet at 21.7 mph. It was the weakest hit of his career and resulted in a very easy groundout.
All three at-bats ended with a run scored and an RBI for Judge. That’s baseball, Suzyn!
Inspired by this absolutely ridiculous run-scoring plate appearance, I set out to find the weakest hits that brought in a run for the Yankees over the first month of the season. So strap yourself in — or don’t, because we won’t be going that fast — as we explore an assortment of plays where we shrugged our shoulders and said, “Well, at least it brought home a run.”
3rd inning, April 15th: Giancarlo Stanton
The outfielder/designated hitter can drive the ball better than anyone: he leads the league in average exit velocity among qualified hitters (96.5 mph) and is second to Shohei Ohtani in max exit velocity (118.8 mph). But as much fun as it is to watch him shoot lasers across the field, Big G can get the job done with soft contact when the need requires.
MLB Film Room labels this a “line drive,” and technically, by definition, it is: with a 25 degree launch angle, it just barely falls within the 10-25 degree range that Statcast defines as a line drive. Line drives, however, invoke a hard-hit ball, one that fans are barely able to track and which only results in an out when it’s hit directly at a player. This is the exact opposite of that, a broken bat bloop single that happens to find the outfield grass. It went a whopping 69.9 mph off the bat. But because he got the ball in the air, and because Kyle Higashioka happened to be on third base, that was more than adequate to do the job and drive in the run.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be the only run the Yankees managed to score that day, resulting in a 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
9th inning, April 19th: DJ LeMahieu
DJ LeMahieu became one of the best hitters in baseball over the last few seasons courtesy of his ability to drive the ball the opposite way. Sometimes, however, just flicking it the opposite way is good enough. For example, the ninth inning of the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over Detroit on the 19th.
With Anthony Rizzo on first and Aaron Hicks on second, LeMahieu took a 96-mph fastball from Tigers reliever Joe Jiménez, and slapped it the other way. As far as hard-hit balls go, this one was...decidedly not hard hit, measuring a mere 66.7 mph off the bat. But Hicks has some speed, and since DJ looped the ball in the air down the right field line, the center fielder was able to come around and score, giving the Yankees an insurance run as they prepared to hand the game over to Aroldis Chapman.
2nd inning, April 30th: Isiah Kiner-Falefa
The first two plays that we looked at shared a lot of similarities: sure, they were hit softly, but because the batter got the ball in the air, the ball fell in the No Man’s Land in front of the outfielders. They resulted in hits, and the batter received an RBI. This past Saturday, Isiah Kiner-Falefa was a beneficiary of game circumstances, bringing home a run but without receiving credit for an RBI.
The second inning unraveled quickly for Royals starter Carlos Hernandez. Gleyber Torres opened the inning with a single to left field. Aaron Hicks followed that up with a walk, and Joey Gallo singled to right field to load the bases with nobody out for IKF.
Looking to do some damage, the Yankees shortstop jumped on the first pitch he saw. Unfortunately, it was a pitch on the outside corner that he rolled over on, grounding it a meek 63.7 mph to shortstop Nicky Lopez. Because it was so early in the game, Kansas City decided to limit the damage, opting to turn the 6-4-3 double play instead of trying to nab Torres at home. IKF made it close at first, but the throw beat him by half a step, meaning that he did not get credit with an RBI.
But hey, a run is a run no matter how you do it, and since the Yankees pitching staff shut out the Royals, that play would be all they would need.
7th Inning, May 1st: Aaron Judge
And that brings us to the one that started us down this inquiry: the accidental, check swing, technically-not-a-sacrifice bunt.
With the bases loaded and the Yankees down one in the seventh, Judge began to offer against a Scott Barlow 0-1 slider, but then he changed his mind, thinking it would leave the zone. However, he made contact, and the ball took off like a perfectly-placed sacrifice bunt. Barlow had only one play, and he made it, getting Judge out at first for the first out of the inning.
It was just 21 mph off the bat. It traveled four feet. It certainly isn’t going on any highlight reels. But it tied the game, and in the process, it found itself at the top of the list of weakest hits that scored runs for the Yankees so far this season.