It’s been said endless times in the last few weeks, but Aaron Judge set out to be an all-around hitter this year. He’s consistently put up respectable batting averages (in the historical sense), but this year it has peaked. On top of that, he has kept his strikeouts at a fine level, and increased his walk rate back to the point where he was in his first few seasons with the Yankees.
He has had a very good swing for years now, but you only have the season he is having when something really clicks. That click came in the form of his timing and load looking better, and smoother than it ever has. Judge is not a typical hitter in the sense that his foot hits the ground, and he makes his swing decision from there. Instead, he keeps his swing timing within a small window and rotates out of his hip cork and gets his barrel far out in front of the plate. Let’s do some video storytelling.
Should this article just be all Judge homers over and over? I wish, but I have a word count requirement to adhere to. I picked these two home runs for a reason. Judge’s swing has been perfected to smoke home runs from left center to right field and sliders from left center to the left field foul pole. The benefit of having an extremely deep bat path is you can cover a wide range of depths in the hitting zone. In his initial entry into the zone, he enters rather flat, making the lower launch angle home runs he hits to right field pretty intuitive. As he progresses through the zone and in front of it, his attack angle begins to increase as he s creates more loft and keeps his barrel in the hitting zone, albeit much further out.
Before his barrel enters the zone, he gets extremely deep into his hip and creates almost a 45 degree angle with his back. Think of the angle you would want to create with your body to jump up as high as you can. There is a lot of hinge! Judge does that very well in his swing and because of it, creates one of the deepest barrel baths I’ve ever seen.
Many hitters aren’t capable of doing that. 99’s main focus in hitting is feeling his load into his rear hip and uncoiling depending on how he recognizes a pitch. The reason this cue doesn’t help a large group of hitters is because it puts too much focus on the posterior. When creating hip and shoulder separation while hitting, you can get stuck if you’re too focused on what your back side needs to do. Getting stuck on your back foot/leg can negatively impact the direction of rotation, and as a result, steepen your bat path.
Most guys will hit foot strike and use the force they absorb with that leg as a barrier to hold their swing off as long as possible until they want to pull the trigger. The better a hitter can do this with great resistance, the more likely it is they can make hard contact consistently. The two hitters that come to mind are Mookie Betts and Mike Trout.
When watching them, they have abrupt stops in their swings that are followed by an explosion. That’s the act of their front hit hitting the ground, decelerating to a stop, and transferring that energy back up the chain. They do it better than anybody else, but it’s a common trait among elite hitters with high hit tools. Judge’s swing is more dependent on him getting out of his rear hip. He doesn’t transfer quite as much force into that front foot. He instead keeps it stored in his posterior. It goes without saying you can be successful in more than one way, but Judge’s immense power and size allow him to hit like this. He has to in order to consistently pull balls in the air, something we know is crucial for his home run success.
If Judge’s focus in his swing is on the rotating in and out of the rear hip, then it’s likely that the landing leg isn’t all that on his mind for a reason. Of course, he lands just like any hitter; it’s not like he’s hitting off one leg. But it’s clearly not his focus. Does that restrict his ability to adjust to off-speed pitches? It does, but if the rest of his swing is perfected for fastballs and sliders, then how much does it matter? Well, the numbers say not so much!
See! I wasn’t lying about him dominating these two pitches. You basically can’t get away with throwing these anywhere near the middle of the zone more than once in an at-bat against Judge this year. His strength and swing path have gotten to the point where you have the tiniest window to beat him, and if you miss a spot, it’s likely in the path of his gargantuan barrel. I know you don’t need a nerd like me to explain why Judge is doing what he’s doing. He’s a very large human. However, there is a reason why the home runs have come more often this year, and it’s because he has perfected the feel of rotating out of his rear hip. He can do it over and over again, and that means dingers at a historic rate.