It is nearly impossible for Aaron Judge to do much of anything under the radar.
That’s been the case since he was called up in August 2016 and homered in his first at-bat.
Judge’s prodigious power, not to mention his 6-7, 282-pound frame, makes flying under the radar a rare occurrence.
Still, with the Yankees on course to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2016 – though they've played far better of late, winning seven of eight entering Wednesday night’s game – the season Judge has put together has been stellar.
And it probably hasn’t gotten the attention it should.
It doesn’t measure up, naturally, to his 2022 season when he hit an American League-record 62 homers in coasting to the AL MVP.
But, in its own way, his 2023 has been remarkable.
Judge entered Wednesday hitting .264 but with 31 homers and a 1.014 OPS in just 84 games.
“It’s unfortunate that he was out for a good chunk of the year, not to any fault of his own, just one of those freak things that happen,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said.
That, of course, is a reference to the 42 games Judge missed from June 4-July 28 because of a sprained right big toe, an injury he sustained crashing through the bullpen fence in rightfield late in a June 3 game at Dodger Stadium (Judge also missed nine games from April 29-May 9 with a mild hip strain).
Higashioka, the longest tenured player in the Yankees organization having been drafted in 2008 and a close friend of Judge’s – Judge was drafted in 2013 – put it another way.
“He’s capable of having the kind of season in half the number of games that most players would be proud of for a full season,” Higashioka said, shaking his head. “It’s kind of a joke what he’s capable of. That’s the kind of value he brings to the team.”
Gerrit Cole, among the favorites to win this year’s AL Cy Young Award, said of Judge’s 2023 numbers: "It amazes me."
“He’s a 70-homer threat,” Cole said. “I don’t need to see those numbers to know that. It’s just easier for him to hit home runs compared to everybody else. He just has to put a good swing on the ball.”
Cole, however, said there’s one area in which Judge doesn’t get enough praise.
“The ability to be such a good hitter,” Cole said. “He’s almost a hitter first. Coming out of Fresno State and developing, he could have just focused on hitting homers all the time. But he built his swing around staying inside the baseball and using the big part of the field and trusting his power. Doesn’t get enough credit for that.”
Judge, almost from the time he debuted, has talked about his desire to be seen as a “complete hitter,” often mentioning players such as Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera as hitters he most admired coming up because of their ability to hit for average and power.
Though Judge’s average is slightly down this season, he was in the race for the Triple Crown during last year’s historic season, eventfully finishing just short with a .311 average. Judge, a .282 hitter for his career, downplayed his homer total in so few games, typical of the Yankees captain when it comes to individual numbers.
“I’d be hoping that the (84) games would be somewhere in the middle of the year and not near the end of the year,” Judge said, still very much bothered by the number of games missed this season. “It is what it is.”
His teammates, not surprisingly, see it a bit different.
“He just continues to amaze us,” said DJ LeMahieu, a two-time batting champion. “He might get 40 (homers) this year missing two months; 30’s already incredible. He’s the best hitter in the league … I don’t think he gets enough credit for being a complete hitter. It’s hard to do one. It’s hard to hit for average and it’s hard to hit for power, much less doing both. Just continues to get better, obviously. It’s fun to watch. My favorite hitter to watch.”