On a summer Saturday in the Bronx, Aaron Judge walked into the field for batting practice two hours before the first pitch in a game against the Red Sox.
By the time the judges exited the tunnel and carried their bats into the cage, the daily crowd of VIPs and team-invited guests had gathered behind batons on the warning track by Home Plate. Among Yankees fans, there’s now a generational sartorial divide: Adults who show up at the ballpark in pinstriped jerseys usually have the number 2 on the back. His children, some of whom are now preteens who have no memory of the Yankees’ most recent World Series win, are usually repeating the number 99.
The physical qualities that separate the Judge from his peers are obvious: they have size, strength, and can drive just about any pitch up the wall. But Judge doesn’t settle for the groundbreaking success his skills seem to give him: he’s a meticulous preparer who’s persistent in his work to try to get more out of his bat and body. He’s an overall better hitter now than in his wildly successful 2017 breakout season, and much of those around the Yankees attribute his development to the conscious application of the lessons of his routine and training experience.
The judges are domestic superstars who do nothing on the normal scale, a supersized ballplayer who scores huge home runs while playing for the most respected and infamous franchise in North American professional sports. Yet Mr Larger-than-Life has only managed to stay where the sporting spotlight is on, rather than seek him out. She’s a quiet, secure, deeply private person, yet her name and likeness adorn almost every corner of Yankee Stadium—and that’s after less than six full years on the major league roster.
The Yankees offered Judge an extension shortly before Inauguration Day, their self-declared deadline for contract negotiations before the year of his run. The total offer, which was announced by general manager Brian Cashman in an unusual press conference hours before the first pitch of the regular season, was $230 million over eight seasons, including 2022. The judge turned it down, and would hit the open market at age 30. He has so far earned more than $36 million in salary for the Yankees, both on the field and in marketing and promotion for the team and Major League Baseball. There is a remarkably disproportionate figure for the value provided.
In the three months since turning down his offer, Judge has scored 33 home runs at .281/.360/.618. He is an All-Star for the fourth time in six years and is on track to claim the American League MVP award for the second time in his career.
Closing out $230 million as a 30-plus outfielder whose most recognizable skill is hitting for power — and then pouring in the type of running year numbers that could thwart the biggest-money franchises in the game. It requires a remarkable level of self- authority and stability, which have become hallmarks of a judge’s conduct on and off the field.
Over the course of nearly five major league seasons, Judge has played nearly 500 games under manager Aaron Boone, a man who has been immersed in the game since his birth.
“He got it,” Boone says of the judge.
Aaron Judge on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium (Billy Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Ask the judge’s coach and teammates how to find the isolating factor for the judge’s diligence, you’ll get a common response: Watch their batting practice.
Fans who come early to the ballpark to see BP — whether at Yankee Stadium or on the street — probably expect a half-hour treatment of the judge coming to the cage and broadcasting it. It was supposed to be a fun benefit of Giancarlo Stanton coming to New York in 2018: two big sluggers driving practice balls batting deep into the stands every afternoon.
Now, Stanton practices batting almost exclusively in cages, away from public view. The judge, although he can still send a few souvenirs to the bleachers on any given afternoon, spends most of his on-field work training on all-field approaches.
“My routine has been the same since minor league,” the judge said. “My main objective is to try to drill a line drive over the second baseman’s head whenever I find a pitch to hit. I usually focus on the first two rounds, but there’s always a round or two Where you see where the power is and let it eat you.”
The daily preparation schedule for a hitter can be complicated. They are training themselves to be in a naturally reactive situation. His muscle memory has swing mechanics to move or drill; training ocular components and reaction time to better prepare them to make conscious choices about their approach each night while facing high-velocities and high-brakes; And then there’s the “letting it eat,” building or maintaining confidence in the most intuitive version of yourself.
“In traditional batting practice, you basically see the same pitch over and over,” Judge says. “For most of my tour, I like to see the type of pitches I might face in the game that night. I just want like three rounds of facing sliders, curveballs and changeups. That way, I can picture those pitches in my mind even before I step into the box for a game. The more likely you are to repeat what is about to happen on the field – either in batting practice or in the cage – the better your success when it matters. ,
Where the judges lead, their peers follow. Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson says the judge’s focus on purposeful, game-like work during batting practice has led other members of his BP group to take a similar approach.
“When your best hitter does an exercise like this, every other hitter is more likely to follow suit when it happens,” Lawson said. “It opens the door for everyone to be a little more intentional, a little more specific with their BP.”
Yankees first base coach Travis Chapman takes on the judge’s group to throw batting practice, and in whatever pitch type the judge and other hitters ask of him, in some cases by hiding the ball behind them to create a pitcher’s delivery and deception. Throws to better replicate the ability. Chapman played in professional baseball as an infielder and admits he stopped pitching in high school, but he throws sliders on portable mounds and rides fastballs every day as judges train his body to respond. does.
“I would say he wants it to be harder than normal batting practice,” Chapman says. “More often than not, it’s a lot of sliders. He wants the balls off the plate, or just down. He wants it to be like it would be in a game, and sometimes I throw a really good slider off the plate. And he’ll nod his head like ‘Yeah, good pitch’. It’s a ball, but he still wants to see it. It’s really interesting, and a testament to his focus and his work ethic.”
The prime time of Judge’s career is taking place at a time when several clubs – especially in the midst of his competition in the AL East – have come to take a different approach to game-planning against a lineup each night. A team like Ray, who faces the judges 19 times in the regular season, has assembled a collection of pitchers who throw at high velocity but throw a pitch exceptionally well. The technology and data research for pitching is only available on the hitting side for now, and smart clubs and players have used those resources effectively to help pitchers throw harder and throw with more brakes. Throwing 98 mph with a bad slider used to be an extraordinary skill—in the expected baseline for a medium reliever on any given night.
That advantage for pitchers means that for some teams, game planning can focus more on their execution of their best pitches, rather than giving in to the hitter’s strengths and trying to exploit their weaknesses. The judge is the type of hitter who still needs to pitch carefully. His daily preparation includes facing the worst version of the pitching style he is expected to face that night.
In the cages, he and his teammates encounter machines that can throw at extremely high velocities and with extreme speeds and pauses, which the judge says is a testament to the quality of the competition they face in the AL East. Uses to almost reassure himself.
“When a real pitcher is throwing with a windup and delivery, it’s a little easier to time what’s coming at you,” Judge says. “With the BP machine it’s just ‘whoosh, 90 mph’ with no lead-up, so it’s a little more difficult. Though I’d love to deal with things like this in the cage, so that when I can’t beat the batter.” When I go in, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s a little light. I can handle it.'”
Judges may exaggerate the “lightness” of their competition to an extent, especially given the way they have been pitched at this point in their careers.
Only one hitter has seen a higher rate of slider than a judge since his full regular season in 2017 (at least 10,000 total pitches faced). Tigers shortstop Javier Baez, a free-swinger of the highest order, has seen the slider pass 25.8 percent to the judge’s 23.8 percent rate. Both pitching approaches sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, though: this year, no major-league hitter has been worse off the slider than Baez, per Statcast’s run value metric. No one has been a better hitter against the Sliders this season than The Judge.
There’s an added value to the judge preparing each day in the regular season this way: Postseason pitchers often don’t throw away junk.
Judge now has five postseason runs under his belt, and has noticed the difference in difficulty that occurs when the calendar flips from Game 162 of the regular season to Game 1 of the postseason matchup. There’s no stretch against sub-500 teams in October, and at this point, there’s hardly a fifth start. The judges are still looking for their first Fall Classic opportunity. The pursuit of a championship is where he says his focus lies, and the desire grows every time the Yankees’ postseason run ends early.
“It’s cut and dry for me, maybe not for other people, not for other players, but that’s why I’m here,” said the judge after the Yankees lost the 2021 AL wild card game. “I’m here to help bring the championship to New York.”
The game changes post season, and the judge at this point — who once called the Yankees’ 103-win 2019 season a “failure” because their season ended in Game 6 of the ALCS — understands that the regular season’s marathoner. How to use Position yourself for October.
Now a seasoned Major Leaguer, Judge is preparing for the playoffs through the work he’s doing in May.
“Homework goes in your grade, right? It always goes in the final grade, but it may be only 20 percent of it,” says Judge. “Finals are probably about 50 percent of your grades. So you want to make sure you’re doing well on that homework that’s going to put you in a better place to go to that final. But you’re really into that final. Want to reach, because that’s where it matters. Do the homework, but it’s all about the final grade.”
Judge is the son of retired teachers, and he takes his responsibility as a role model for young fans seriously. So, while always being mindful of how his audience — and in this case, his mom, Patti — might interpret his comments, they want to be clear: Homework is important.
Aaron Judge after hitting a home run in May (Elsa/Getty Images)
The judge’s goals in his preparation are two-fold: he wants to be the most consistent version of himself as a hitter, capable of delivering a decent result on whatever is coming the way of the pitch, and he is keen on swinging. Wants to do this without swinging. For the sake of
If there’s any advice the judge would give his younger self, he says it would help him establish a daily routine that would help him reach his goals of preparation without putting external wear and tear on his body each day.
“Less is more,” says Judge. “When you’re young and you feel good, it’s okay to think you can run off a wall and take a million swings a day.”
Physical fitness is one aspect of his game that the judges are open about changing. He missed playing in 2018, 2019 and 2020 due to a variety of injuries, although the 45 games he missed in mid-2018 were due to his wrist being hit by a pitch that he considers distinctly different. . He dealt with soft tissue injuries in 2019 and 2020.
In late 2019, Judge dove for a ball in a game against the Anaheim Angels in September, turning out to make a play against a sub-.500 team, when the Yankees left the AL East for a little more than a week. It was two days away from achieving it. Abandoned in the regular season. He eventually suffered a collapsed lung, and an upper rib fracture, which was not diagnosed until spring training the following year. Focusing on doing well when the season started, the judges were trying to train through the discomfort they had experienced during the season.
“How will Aaron Judge’s body last in his 30s” is a question that has been looming large over his pending free agency campaign. Judge is aware of this concern, and is more eager to discuss his evolving outlook on managing his body than he is about most things his career. The message is clear: The judge feels that past results should not be seen as an indication of how his body will fare in the seasons to come.
Judge says he now has a better understanding of what is needed to survive the 162-game season, noting that he has learned from the experienced players around him.
“You know how many swings are the right amount of swing for you,” Judge says. “Sometimes, you hit BP, then there’s a cage session, then there’s a pregame session, and then play in a game. It’s a lot of wear and tear on your body, and now I’m going to cut my swings. I try to gauge and after 15-20, I understand what to do if something feels off, but I’ve lost muscle memory and it’s time to go out and play.”
Lawson, the Yankees’ hitting coach, was promoted to the major-league staff this season, and he’s only seen Judge’s daily approach to his job this year, but the purposefulness of his training sets him apart.
“Very few swings on a daily basis — and in a 162-game season, it would be easy to set aside a few days — lack full attention,” Lawson said. “He’s locked in, and he does a good job of gauging when he needs more reps or when he needs less reps. What he wants to achieve in a game is a move from training to BP.” -Translates to step-by-step progress, if he’s taking it for the day, for cage work, in pregame sessions. He doesn’t waste his efforts.”
The first thing that struck new Yankees utility man Matt Carpenter when he joined the team in late May was the way the judges were able to set their timing and use both sides of the field depending on the pitch.
“People see him as someone who just has power,” said Carpenter. “But when you see what he’s doing, he’s a one-hitter hitter.”
The judge’s spray chart for the season indicates that he is able to take different approaches against offspeed and breaking pitches versus fastball, without changing too much his time to react to the type of pitch. The high velocity of the fastball means he has to react quickly, but if he can get the end of the bat to the ball, he can hit the opposite field. Since braking pitches and offspeed pitches take a little longer to cross the plate, he can square them and pull them into left field. This allows him to be as consistent as possible with his time on the swing, and this is where the judge’s raw strength can lead to better results for him: if he gets to the pitch, he has to gape for base. A home run is more likely to result in a hit or over the outfield wall.
The biggest indicator of a judge’s success this season may be what MLB’s statcast calls “barrel rate,” or the percentage of batted balls in which the hitter, essentially, gets it all. 60 of Judge’s 293 batted balls have been barreled up – a 25 percent rate, the highest in MLB this season. His rate of barrels per plate attendance is also the highest in MLB at 15.6 percent, 2.4 percent higher than the second highest rate this season held by Stanton.
“Normal hitters usually have to give up a lot to take ownership of something, and he probably gives up less to take ownership of something,” Lawson said.
While his work and approach focus on using the entire field to produce good results at the plate, the reality is that for Judge, who has 33 home runs in mid-July, the most fertile field he can find is He is often in the seats.
“Looking at what he established early in his career, his destination is so high,” Lawson said. “I think one trick with the judge is that he didn’t lose his strength to achieve more consistency.”
Aaron Judge jogging for the dugout at Yankee Stadium in 2021 (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
As the judge zaps line drives and the occasional longball at batting practice, before lighting up the field later that night when batted balls actually count, his position within the Yankees empire is clear: he’s the heir, he’s the draw. , he is the face of perennial championship hopes. Yet he sees himself as his fans and his peers for what his career has already given.
After about half an hour of swinging in the cage with their teammates, the judges greet the kids on the field, who are wearing their names and numbers, condensing their 6’7″ frames to meet them at eye level. He understands that a kid who is 2-3 feet shorter than him, and knows who he is because he drives home on his TV every third night, seems like something mythical. The judge is just another human being – Even though he’s tall and talented – who can blame a child for viewing him as a supernatural being?
As his teammates and coach head into the clubhouse to prepare for that night’s game, the judge sits in the dugout with a family that the Yankees have arranged to meet before the game of the rivalry. He gets an hour of privacy before becoming the center of attraction for 48,000 fans.
As he runs across the field to warm up his body, the Yankee Stadium PA begins to destroy “And Your Bird Can Sing” by the Beatles, a filler track that has to compete with an enthusiastic crowd who watched. that the judge has emerged his chamber.
“Tell me you have everything you want,” blurs through the ballpark as he takes his daily moment of prayer and reflection in the outfield.
The judge has worked in his own way to live the dreams of millions of children. But he remains dissatisfied. He is unwavering in his claim that what he wants – a championship win with the Yankees – he hasn’t got yet.
He soon assumes his defensive position in front of retired numbers at Memorial Park and carries decorative banners commemorating the Yankees’ World Series victory. He waits to react on every pitch. That night, he goes 3-for-3 against the Red Sox with a walk. He scored a total of 33 home runs in 89 matches by hitting two balls in the stands. In the fifth inning, he encounters a slider, and pulls it 400 feet into left field. In the next inning, he gets another slider, and moves him 444 feet left center.
He didn’t spend his afternoon session scoring home runs for fun. Instead, he waits for his pitch, and plays it when it matters.
(Top Image: Wes McCabe / Athletic; Photos: Adam Hunger / Getty Images; Diamond Images / Getty Images; Heritage Art / Heritage Images via Getty Images)