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Aaron Judge and how he learned to love the pull

As Esteban suspected earlier this year, Judge has made minor adjustments that have lead to a huge season.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Yankees have had a dismal run of things since the All-Star break (barring the last few games), but the one bight spot has been Aaron Judge. Although the rest of the lineup has slumped to the depths of Hades, Judge has given the Yankees all the production that they could ask for. What’s crazy with Judge is that he has even gotten somewhat unlucky with his home run total.

Aaron Judge Expected Home Run Totals
Credit: Baseball Savant

Baseball Savant’s expected home run total for Judge sits at 49.3, while his actual home run totals rests at a paltry 48. If everything was right with the world, he would have all of those home runs. In seasons past, he has often hit more than his expected number of homers. This might be due to his ability to hit home runs all over the field.

Since the All-Star break, Judge’s triple slash line sits at .336/.475/.800. This even outpaces his spectacular first half, where he was hitting .284/.364/.618. So what has Judge been doing to get such fantastic results? Back in May with Judge off to a torrid start, my colleague Esteban explored what helped him dominate his peers. He theorized that Judge was attempting to pull the ball in the air to increase his homers and extra base hits. So why has he gone on such a tear in the second half?

When Esteban looked at how Judge has hit the ball, he was only putting the ball in the air 31.1 percent of the time, and pulling it 39.3 percent of the time. This stands in stark contrast to his batted-ball profile at this point in the year. Just a couple of months can make a huge difference:

Aaron Judge: Batted Ball Profile
Credit: Baseball Savant

Since Esteban’s piece went live, the trends he noticed have only continued and become even more extreme.

Judge has lifted 37.9 percent of his batted balls in the air as of the beginning of play on August 25th. A full 46 percent of his batted balls have been hit to the pull side. Earlier in 2022, he was hitting balls in the air and to the pull side closer to his career averages, but the current rates reflect a noticeable change from the norm. This jump is noticeably evident in his performance over the last couple of months.

Aaron Judge 2022 Splits by Month
Credit: Baseball Savant

In July and August, Judge has been on absolute fire, with an OPS exceeding the first half by almost .300. His most recent game against the Mets exemplifies how he has been able to pull balls in the air to great effect. In his homer off Taijuan Walker on Tuesday, he took a pitch on the inner edge of the zone and smashed it to left field.

While this was certainly not an extreme pull ball, Judge was able to rotate his upper body to shoot the ball into deep left field:

In the second half, Judge has managed to make some adjustments that have helped him make up for some of his previous weak points in the zone (such as they were) when hitting fly balls. In the early parts of the season, he was not consistently hitting balls in the center of the zone while absolutely destroying balls outside the zone in the inner half.

Aaron Judge SLG in April-June 2022 by Zone on Fly Balls
Credit: Baseball Savant

In contrast, during Judge’s best months of July and August, he has seen slightly less success on the inside edge of the zone, but he has been able to pummel pitches in the heart of the zone when he hits a fly ball. This seems to indicate that he has tweaked his swing to pulverize middle pitches with more authority. The increase in pull rate would seem to indicate that he is trying to pull more than just the inside pitches, and he has certainly done so.

Aaron Judge SLG in July/August 2022 by Zone on Fly Balls
Credit: Baseball Savant

The changes that Judge has made seem to have had a positive effect on his ability to hit the ball. Pulling the ball more has enabled him to hit pitches in the heart of the zone. He might sacrifice his ability to hit the extreme inside edge of the zone by doing so, but it enables him to crush balls inside the zone. Ultimately, putting the ball in the air and pulling it have enabled Judge to succeed, and by increasing both fly balls and pulled balls has further helped him.

If Judge continues to pull the ball and put it in the air, he could conceivably pass Roger Maris. What a time to be alive (other than the last few weeks of losing).