Aaron Judge had his first big "Aaron Judge" moment this season during Tuesday night's 8-3 victory over the Rays. Batting as the go-ahead run, he cracked a two-run home run that gave the Yankees a lead that they did not relinquish.
Due to injuries and time off, it was only Judge's 10th home run of the season, and his first in 11 days. That doesn't mean that big number 99 hasn't been helping the Yankees in other ways, though.
Judge has, in some ways, changed his approach in 2019. His power production has dropped a little bit, but his batting average sits at an attractive .304. In the at-bat that preceded his go-ahead bomb, the Rays shifted on Judge, playing him to pull. Instead, Judge laced a base hit right to where the second baseman would have normally been.
It's plays like that, where Judge uses his incredible hitting gifts and takes what the defense is giving him, that illustrate the new aspect of his game.
Now, this isn't to say that Judge is about to become a slap hitter and stop using his world-class power. That wouldn't be productive. However, you could make an argument that a .300-hitting, 40-home run Judge is more valuable than a .270-hitting, 50-home run Judge.
How has Judge done it this year? For starters, his spray chart looks like one you'd find in a textbook (via FanGraphs):
Judge's batted ball rates are also something to behold. He is hitting 32.6 percent of his batted balls to left field, an equal 32.6 percent to right field, and the remaining 34.8 percent to center field. Even though data shows that opponents are shifting on him more frequently this year, Judge has caught up with the trends by hitting the ball to right field and center field more than he ever has before.
He has led the league in exit velocity and hard-hit percentage the last two seasons, and he's doing it again this year. In fact, Judge's 98 mph exit velocity is 4 mph better than the next-best hitter, and his hard-hit percentage of 62.1 percent is nine points higher than second place. Maybe his home run numbers aren't what they once were, but Judge hasn't gone soft in his quest to raise his batting average -- he's hitting the ball harder than anyone else in all of baseball.
The real reason for Judge's new approach likely centers around strikeouts. After leading the league in K's in his Rookie of the Year season in 2017, he has worked hard to reduce his punchouts. Judge's strikeout rate has improved from 30.7 percent in 2017 to 28.3 this year, and his whiff rate went from 34.9 to 32.5 percent this year. Two or three percent may not seem like a lot, but it sure has a lot to do with Judge's average going from .280 territory to .300 territory.
Judge can credit his new two-strike philosophy for the reduction in strikeouts. Since Spring Training, Judge has been eliminating his leg kick once the count reaches two strikes. This has helped him turn some strikeouts into two-strike hits -- a skill that the 2018 Yankees severely lacked.
After finishing last year with the third-most strikeouts in the American League, the Yankees have the seventh-fewest strikeouts in the AL this year. Thus, Judge's new approach jives with the Yankees' new strategy.
In the end, the Yankees will take hits from Judge however they come. While he is sacrificing a bit of power, Judge has a serious chance to bat .300 while popping 40 dingers over a full season. A dual-threat hitter like that would be on the short-list of the greatest all-around hitters in the game.