Reliving Aaron Judge's magnificent month for the Yankees

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

Over the weekend, as he inspired others to commit the unforgivable crime of making bad name puns, Aaron Judge himself did some legitimately felonious things to an assortment of baseballs. For the longest time, Giancarlo Stanton stood alone as king of the baseball freaks, a combination of unmatched size, strength and athleticism. In April, Aaron Judge was Giancarlo Stanton 2.0, debugged and practically flawless.

What that meant, beyond a New York Yankees resurgence that’s even scarier knowing Gary Sanchez isn’t playing and they’ve got barely $100 million on the books for next season, was a torrent of highlights from a 6-foot-7, 282-pound man sending a tiny ball to galaxies far, far away.

I spent Sunday watching and rewatching all 10 of Judge’s home runs thus far, and I can say, with a fair amount of probability, I had a better Sunday than you. Every Judge home run is a snowflake. He hits balls high and low, to the pull side and opposite field, rainbows and missiles. Judge is a five-tool home run hitter. Here, for your viewing (and reading) pleasure, are Judge’s 10 home runs, with the GIFs stopped right after the swing so you can guess the ultimate distance and realize just how much one man’s bat can deceive the world’s eyes.

1st Home Run

Date: April 9
Pitcher: Mychal Givens
Pitch: Slider
Pitch velocity: 85.8 mph
Location: Middle-middle
Exit velocity: 100 mph
Launch angle: 27 degrees

Initial reaction: That’s a well-struck ball.
Fawning commentary: At this point, a week into the season, Judge was 2 for 15 and coming off an awful 95-plate appearance cameo in 2016. Givens fed him a cookie, and while it looked like Judge topspinned the ball a tad, it flew well over the outfield fence. Wall scrapers tend not to be his jam.
Estimated distance: 376 feet

2nd Home Run

Date: April 10
Pitcher: Alex Cobb
Pitch: Knuckle-curve
Pitch velocity: 82.3 mph
Location: Middle-in
Exit velocity: 109 mph
Launch angle: 38 degrees

Initial reaction: Moon. Shot.

Fawning commentary: Look at poor Alex Cobb. He knows. We knew, too. This is what a home run is supposed to look like. Majestic and resplendent and epic. Statcast – which is kind enough to provide the pitch type, velocity, exit velo, launch angle and distance – said it peaked at 147 feet. In the eyes of this judge, that was guilty of being awesome.

Passan, you really are the worst.

Estimated distance: 397 feet

3rd Home Run

Date: April 12
Pitcher: Erasmo Ramirez
Pitch: Two-seamer
Pitch velocity: 94 mph
Location: High-in
Exit velocity: 109 mph
Launch angle: 29 degrees

Initial reaction: That looks pretty well-hit and oh my god did Erasmo Ramirez just give himself whiplash?
Fawning commentary: This is sneaky fantastic. Home runs to dead center field are best seen from the first- or third-base lines, as our depth perception doesn’t allow us proper perspective to realize from straight on how far a ball struck this crisply will go. Want a monster home run? A 110-mph-or-so exit velocity and about 30 degrees of launch angle will do it.
Estimated distance: 437 feet

4th Home Run

Date: April 17
Pitcher: Derek Holland
Pitch: Knuckle-curve
Pitch velocity: 79 mph
Location: Low-middle
Exit velocity: 100 mph
Launch angle: 30 degrees

Initial reaction: That’s gonna go 500 feet.
Fawning commentary: Even the people in the rich-person seats at Yankee Stadium celebrate almost immediately after it’s struck. This looks the part. Like left-handed swings, home runs that are pulled are simply more visually satisfying. Thing is, the 100-mph exit velo is on the low end of Judge’s home run scale. And minus those 10 mph, 30 degrees actually puts a ball at risk of not having enough juice to leave the park. This one did anyway.
Estimated distance: 385 feet

5th Home Run

Date: April 19
Pitcher: Dylan Covey
Pitch: Curveball
Pitch velocity: 77.7 mph
Location: Low-in
Exit velocity: 116 mph
Launch angle: 30 degrees

Initial reaction: ❤️
Fawning commentary: This is the good stuff. The ball left the batter’s box nearly 40 mph faster than when it entered. (Actually, if we’re being truthful, it actually exceeded 45 mph. Pitch velocity is read when it leaves a pitcher’s hand. Covey’s curve crossed the plate at 70.8 mph.) Never before has Statcast recorded a difference that large.
Estimated distance: 448 feet

6th Home Run

Date: April 22
Pitcher: Antonio Bastardo
Pitch: Fastball
Pitch velocity: 89.4 mph
Location: Middle-middle
Exit velocity: 116 mph
Launch angle: 28 degrees

Initial reaction: ZOMG
Fawning commentary: I figured this was peak Judge. I was wrong.
Estimated distance: 457 feet

7th Home Run

Date: April 26
Pitcher: Rick Porcello
Pitch: Two-seam fastball
Pitch velocity: 88.7 mph
Location: Middle-middle
Exit velocity: 110 mph
Launch angle: 27 degrees

Initial reaction: Well-hit but tough to judge oppo power. No pun intended. Honestly
Fawning commentary: Now, this is where Judge turns into a superstar. The monster pulled home runs are one thing. Taking the reigning AL Cy Young winner deep opposite field is no easy task. And, yes, the pitch was over the middle of the plate at 89 mph, but still. This isn’t the prettiest home run, but it deserves plenty of respect for its merits.
Estimated distance: 385 feet

8th Home Run

Date: April 28
Pitcher: Kevin Gausman
Pitch: Fastball
Pitch velocity: 95.9 mph
Location: Middle-in
Exit velocity: 113 mph
Launch angle: 19 degrees

Initial reaction: Someone in the left-field stands is going to get hurt.
Fawning commentary: While a home run like this one stands on its merits, the backstory makes it that much better. With his two previous pitches, Gausman had fed Judge splitters below the strike zone. He spit at both. Then he came back at 96, in on his hands, only Judge’s are so quick, they can do that.
Estimated distance: 417 feet

9th Home Run

Date: April 28
Pitcher: Kevin Gausman
Pitch: Fastball
Pitch velocity: 97.1 mph
Location: Middle-middle
Exit velocity: 119 mph
Launch angle: 17 degrees

Initial reaction: Single to center, double if it reaches the gap.
Fawning commentary: Peak elevation on this ball: 58 feet. One of these days, an infielder is going to jump for a ball Judge hits that ends up going over the fence. And if you’re still guessing on distance, bet this is the biggest miss. Oh, and one more thing: The 119 mph is the hardest a home run has been hit in Statcast’s existence.
Estimated distance: 435 feet

10th Home Run

Date: April 29
Pitcher: Jayson Aquino
Pitch: Fastball
Pitch velocity: 91.4 mph
Location: Middle-middle
Exit velocity: 110 mph
Launch angle: 36 degrees

Initial reaction: This is one of those Aaron Judge home runs that looks like it may be a fly ball but won’t stop going.
Fawning commentary: I get the feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of these in the years to come. This one went an estimated 391 feet, and for …

1. Aaron Judge, all of 25 years old, it just looked so easy. Last season couldn’t have been much different. The power was there, yes. Judge just couldn’t make enough contact that it mattered. In 84 at-bats, he struck out 42. It takes no sabermetrician to understand that’s a rather undesirable strikeout rate.

In 76 at-bats this season, Judge has struck out 24 times – not a great number, by any means, but far better. Other numbers back up the new approach’s effectiveness. Judge’s biggest issue: When he swings at pitches outside the strike zone, he misses them. His 42.6 percent contact rate on swings at balls outside the zone is the sixth worst of 182 qualified players, according to FanGraphs.

The good news: Judge is swinging at just 24.1 percent of those pitches this season, compared to 33.6 percent last year. He’s in the top quarter of patient players on balls outside the zone in all of MLB. When the ball is in the strike zone, on the other hand, Judge’s contact rate is 86.5 percent – about the middle of the pack and two-tenths of a percentage point ahead of someone worth emulating: Mike Trout.

This is why the …

2. New York Yankees drafted Judge: Because with a physical marvel like him or Stanton, all it takes is the right tweaks to unleash a Kraken. The rest of the Yankees are right there with Judge. Starlin Castro is playing his best baseball in years. Ditto Chase Headley. Forget the years part with Aaron Hicks; this is the best he ever has looked. A reinvigorated Matt Holliday only adds to the danger. And with Luis Severino and Michael Pineda combining for a 70-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 2/3 innings, plus a bullpen sporting the game’s second best ERA at 2.19, no wonder the Yankees enter May tied for the best record in the American League.

While this certainly isn’t an exact comparable, and the prospect of the Yankees continuing to play at a level anything like this is unlikely, it brings to mind the 2015 Chicago Cubs, who were supposed to be at least a year away from competing and sprinted to the NLCS anyway. The Yankees’ prime target for contention is 2019, when Gleyber Torres will be at shortstop and Clint Frazier in center field and whoever they buy from the bonanza free agent class that offseason elsewhere on the diamond with Judge and Sanchez.

A playoff spot this season would be a gift for a team that, with its tax burden lessened in the new collective-bargaining agreement, really doesn’t need a whole lot more going its way. The dawn of the reborn Yankees is coming. Baseball has known that for a while now. Thing is, it may already be here.

Windows open that quickly in the game, and as the Yankees’ crosstown rivals fear following the exit of …

3. Noah Syndergaard from his start Sunday, they shut awfully fast, too. The incident capped a miserable week for the New York Mets, during which Yoenis Cespedes hit the disabled list with a hamstring strain that will keep him out an unknown period of time and Syndergaard allegedly refused to get a midweek MRI after his right biceps started to hurt, then needed to leave his outing because of a potential lat issue.

The return of the LOLMets came with an all-timer quote from Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who, when asked why the team didn’t force the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Syndergaard to undergo the imaging test, said: “I can’t tie him down and throw him in the tube.” Syndergaard seemingly not wanting to understand why his arm hurt was curious, sure, but the Mets letting him throw a bullpen session to prove he was fine and then using that as enough evidence to let him start a big league game 10 days later reeked of foolishness.

The fear, always, is that playing through one injury can cause another, and the fact that Syndergaard throws consistently harder than any starting pitcher in baseball history makes him the sort who needs to practice extreme caution. Maybe he’s the outlier, the flame-throwing starter whose elbow doesn’t break. If the MRI he’s now going to undergo shows just tendinitis or a muscle strain, he got off lucky. And hopefully it taught both Syndergaard and the Mets a lesson in caution to be applied going forward.

Where their forward is, nobody knows. They are 10-14, in last place in the National League East. As great as Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have been, Cespedes is out, Lucas Duda is out, Steven Matz is out, Seth Lugo is out, David Wright is out, Wilmer Flores is out and the Washington Nationals are running away with the division, 6½ games ahead of the Mets already after dropping 23 runs on them Sunday. Ten of those came courtesy of …

4. Anthony Rendon and his 6-for-6, three-homer, 10-RBI onslaught that is right up there with the finest individual performances in a major league game. Here is where he stacks up:

– Of the 69 times a player has gone 6 for 6, only Shawn Green’s four-homer day bests Rendon’s, and just two others — Edgardo Alfonzo and Ty Cobb — hit three.
– The most RBIs in a 6-for-6 game? Jim Bottomley’s major league-record 12 in 1924. Rendon’s 10 are second by a handy margin.
– Among the dozen players with double-digit RBIs, Rendon and Bottomley are the only ones who batted 1.000.
– The only other player to get double-digit RBIs from the No. 6 spot, like Rendon: Hard-Hittin’ Mark Whiten, he of the infamous four-homer, 12-RBI spectacle on Sept. 7, 1993.
– The best argument against this being an all-timer: 15 players have finished a nine-innings-or-fewer game with more total bases than Rendon’s 15. Kris Bryant had 16 in a game last year.

The verdict: Spectacular, though the home runs came off a reliever who replaced an injured started and a catcher pitching because his pitching staff was so bad. That it happened just two days after …

5. Adam Eaton tore his ACL in a season-ending injury trying to beat out a ball to first in the ninth-inning was a mighty show of force for the Nationals, who are going to be just fine. The timing, as far as awful things go, couldn’t have been a whole lot better, because the Nationals now get to give Michael Taylor one final audition in center before deciding whether they need to deal for a center fielder.

If so, the perfect trade partner exists: The Kansas City Royals. Not only could Kansas City offer center fielder Lorenzo Cain, about whom the Nationals inquired this offseason before dealing for Eaton, the Royals also have Kelvin Herrera, who could fortify the Nationals’ bullpen in the eighth or ninth inning, depending on Shawn Kelley’s performance.

That it’s barely May and there’s already talk of Kansas City tearing things down can’t be much of a surprise, what with the Nationals over the last week scoring 77 runs and the Royals all month managing but 63. After nine straight losses, Kansas City has the worst record in baseball (7-16), the worst run differential (minus-37) and one of the worst farm systems. Even a great May might not be enough to salvage the mess.

The Nationals aren’t exactly shaking off the loss of Eaton, the center fielder who excelled near the top of their lineup. As one Nationals hitter told Big League Stew’s Blake Schuster this week, though, “This group of guys pushes each other. When you don’t feel like doing something, or want a day to take it easy, you look around and see everyone else doing stuff and it’s hard to sit there and not do something.”

That hitter happened to be their best this season, and, no, it’s not Bryce Harper. Actually …

6. Ryan Zimmerman, long thought a sunk cost following a .218/.272/.370 season last year, hit .420/.458/.886 in April and won the National League first-month Triple Crown, tying for the home run lead with Eric Thames at 11 and besting two teammates, Harper and Daniel Murphy, with 29 RBIs.

In 25 April games, the Nationals scored 170 runs. That puts them on pace to score more than 1,100 this year. Even without Eaton, a lineup that includes Harper, Murphy, Rendon, Trea Turner, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters can expect to remain among the game’s best offenses – particularly if Zimmerman continues to even slightly resemble his April self.

As Jeff Sullivan wrote in December, Zimmerman may not have been as bad last season as his numbers made him look – the victim of consistently bad luck that belied the charge he put into a ball. This season, Zimmerman has slashed his groundball rate from nearly 49 percent to just under 35 percent, and while his home run-per-flyball rate isn’t sustainable, a player with his power simply is better when he puts the ball in the air.

Zimmerman’s numbers crashing had coincided with his move to first base, one his longtime teammate …

7. Ian Desmond is about to undertake in Colorado. While Desmond played left field in his Rockies debut on Sunday, he’ll see plenty of playing time at first base. Desmond has played five positions in the big leagues. That’s not one of them.

When the Rockies signed him to a five-year, $70 million deal this offseason, the lobby at the winter meetings lit up with phones trumpeting the same text message: “WTF?” It wasn’t just the length and the dollars — well, it was those, too — but the seemingly odd fit. Trevor Story plays shortstop. D.J. LeMahieu is at second. Among Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, David Dahl, Gerardo Parra and Raimel Tapia, the Rockies had more than enough outfielders. What gave?

Colorado wanted to try Desmond at first. And that Mark Reynolds has spent the first month hitting .300 and slugging .600 with a perfectly acceptable glove makes the fit even tighter. The Rockies will shoehorn Desmond in there, hoping he better resembles first-half Desmond from last season (.322/.375/.524) than the one that flailed about after the All-Star break (.237/.283/.347).

Going to a new team – especially one in the best-hitting park – can invigorate anyone. Just ask …

8. Ivan Nova, who, as a Pittsburgh Pirate, has thrown 100 2/3 innings and walked four batters. Coming into Sunday, pitchers had walked five or more hitters in a single game 33 times this season.

Nova, the Pirate, is a paragon of efficiency. As Jared Diamond wrote, Nova craves contact, and the three-pitchers-or-fewer mentality passed along by pitching coach Ray Searage plays to his strengths. Nova threw a Maddux on Saturday, needing just 95 pitches to shut out the Marlins. Two starts earlier, he shut down St. Louis for eight innings on just 78 pitches.

Of his 108 outs recorded this season, Nova has just 22 strikeouts — a stark contrast to his peers who value the punchout over all. Nearly half of …

9. Chris Sale’s outs this season have been via the K. Sale’s dominance, in his first five starts for the Boston Red Sox, goes well beyond those 52 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings or his 1.19 ERA. To wit:

– Sale has started 36 percent of hitters he faced off with an 0-2 count. That is unfair.
– He is throwing 69.3 percent strikes, a career best. With his fastball-slider-changeup repertoire, that, too, is unfair.
– Nearly 27 percent of his strikes are coming on swings. That’s 3 percentage points better than two years ago, when Sale’s 274 strikeouts led the AL.

It’s enough to make twitchy White Sox fans do a quick check in the minor leagues to see how the return for Sale is faring. By and large, pretty well. The good with second baseman Yoan Moncada: a .314/.385/.500 slash line. The bad: 30 strikeouts in 86 at-bats at Triple-A. And Michael Kopech, he of the monster fastball, at Double-A: 28 strikeouts in 18 innings. The bad: 14 walks.

Their time will come. Sale’s is now, especially with the Orioles coming to town with the Manny Machado incident fresh on their minds and a month after that a trip to New York, where …

10. Aaron Judge will be waiting. By then, presumably, the league will have adjusted to him, found his holes and tried to exploit them. Will they continue to throw 67.9 percent of first pitches in the strike zone like they are now? Almost certainly not, though running the risk of falling behind with Judge and needing to feed him a mid-count fastball is nightmare fuel.

Slugger Aaron Judge hit 10 home runs in April for the Yankees. (Getty Images)

That’s the beauty of a talent such as Judge becoming fully realized: the possibilities of what he can do are endless. He will hit a 500-foot home run. He will compete in the Home Run Derby and wow the world. He will do all of this wearing Yankees pinstripes for another half-decade. MLB is giddy at the thought.

He will slump, though. And he will fail. And he will do all these things because he’s human and fallible. Remember, Stanton is one of the greatest pure talents ever to play the game, and at 27 he still has never played more than 150 games in a season. Careers are fickle, and a month as a supernova does not make a lifetime as a star.

In the meantime, enjoy those 10 home runs Judge hit and the ones to come, because they represent another glittering young talent in baseball, one of so many in this era where the game seems to keep finding more and more.

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