What a week for Aaron Judge. He won the American League Rookie of the Month for April and then was even hotter as May began.
In the first five days of May, Judge went 6-for-12 (.500) with three home runs and seven RBIs. That’s after batting .303 with 10 home runs and 20 RBIs in April and becoming the biggest thing, literally and figuratively, that Yankee Stadium has seen in some time.
Like Gary Sanchez last season, Judge has been on a tear of epic proportions. But Judge adds the element of his 6-7, 282-pound physique — and the fact that he looked overmatched in his debut at the end of last season.
In his first taste of big-league action, Judge struck out in exactly half of his at-bats (42 of 84) and hit .179.
With about a week to go in spring training, the Yankees weren’t even sure if Judge was going to make the Opening Day roster. He made it, and hit eighth in the season opener.
On Saturday night, Judge made his first start in the cleanup spot. He might have to make more room in his trophy case if this continues.
Another Rookie of the Month award? Pish-posh.
How about Rookie of the Year and MVP?
It’s been done only twice: by Fred Lynn of the Red Sox in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners in 2001.
We know it’s early. But Judge inspires big thoughts.
Entering Saturday, Judge was tied with Angels centerfielder Mike Trout and Red Sox ace Chris Sale in FanGraphs WAR (Wins Above Replacement). They each had 2.2.
Trout, the 2016 AL MVP, finished the season with a WAR of 9.4. It’s a cumulative stat that takes into account every aspect of a player’s value and will grow as the season goes along.
How is Judge doing it? There are three ways to look at it:
1. What you see with your own eyes. He clearly is laying off pitches outside the strike zone. And when he hits them, they go — fast and far. You don’t need to be a scout or a stat geek to realize that.
2.The detailed numbers. We’ll give you a few (all stats through Friday):
* In about the same number of at-bats as last season’s cameo, Judge has reduced his strikeout rate from 50 percent to 31.5 percent (29 Ks in 92 ABs.)
* In 2016, Judge swung at pitches outside the strike zone 33.6 percent of the time. In 2017, it’s 23.3 percent.
* Judge’s fly-ball percentage is down from 51.2 percent to 38.1 percent. But in 2017, when he hits the ball in the air he gets results: a .625 batting average. And his line drive percentage has gone from 14.0 to 20.6.
* According to MLB.com statcast, Judge has nine hits with an exit velocity of at least 115 miles per hour this season. No other MLB player has more than two.
* No wonder fans in the Bronx love Judge: He’s batting .408 with 10 homers and 20 RBIs at home (vs. .256-3-8 on the road).
3.Judge’s own words. As he told reporters this past week, he spent the offseason making minor mechanical adjustments. He came to New York and worked for a week with hitting coaches Alan Cockrell and Marcus Thames.
“For me, it was just really fine-tuning my approach and making sure I stick to it,” Judge said. “A couple mechanical things we changed — not really changed, just adjusted to help me get in a better position to square up the baseball. I feel like that’s kind of paid off so far . . . I feel like I’m just trying to go up there and have quality at-bats. Swing at the right pitches.”
According to a March 27 story on the FanGraphs website, in the offseason, Judge watched YouTube videos of the swings of some of baseball’s best hitters, including Miguel Cabrera, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton and the retired Alex Rodriguez.
“I was usually on my phone before bed or before I went to hit,” he said. “It could be anytime, anywhere.”
Interestingly, Judge said he has learned to lay off pitches outside the zone better by being more, and not less, aggressive, even though that seems counterintuitive.
“This year, I’ve had more of an aggressive approach and trying to attack something and get it to the middle of the field,” he said. “Last year, I was more trying to see-ball-then-hit-ball instead of knowing it’s going to be in the zone I’m looking for. When I’m more aggressive like that, I lay off the close pitches, the borderline pitches. It all comes down to approach.”
Will Judge end up winning the MVP or the Rookie of the Year or even another Rookie of the Month award? Who knows?
One thing seems certain: Unless he gets hurt or completely falls off the map at the plate or MLB officials aren’t paying attention, Judge will be a part of the All-Star Game Home Run Derby in Miami on July 10. That one you can take to the bank.