With all due respect to the former Yankees captain, we have to disagree with Joe Girardi’s recent comparison of Aaron Judge to Derek Jeter. Beyond wearing pinstripes, and the team-first, even-keel attitude, that’s where the similarity ends. And the divergence is not a bad thing.
Let Judge be Judge. Saddling him with the Jeter name, and the five-ring fame, is too much, too soon for a player that just turned 25 a week ago. Judge is a 6-7, baseball-wrecking homer machine that doesn’t share much in common with anyone in the sport right now, aside from maybe the almost-as-massive Giancarlo Stanton.
He further separated himself from the pack during last night’s 8-6 comeback victory by walloping his 13th home run, becoming the youngest player in history to hit at least that many through his team’s first 26 games. The Yankees are 11-0 this season when Judge goes deep, and Wednesday’s MLB-leading blast came only a matter of hours after Judge was named the AL’s Rookie of the Month for April (.303 BA, 10 HRs, 1.161 OPS). Based on what he’s done since, maybe the league’s powers-that-be can cut to the chase and give him the May award, too. Has Judge ever been this locked-in before?
“Maybe in T-ball,” Judge said, smiling. “I wouldn’t say I’m in a zone. Just competing.”
This month is only three days old, and Judge already has three home runs, along with one smashed big-screen TV on his resume, the result of a Tuesday batting-practice bomb that sailed into the stadium’s new outfield patio area. It’s not supposed to look this easy. But Judge’s larger-than-life plate persona is well-balanced with a humble mindset. When asked Wednesday afternoon about his thunderous start, Judge said he would have “laughed” at anyone who suggested this before the season. But he’s now only the seventh player all-time to hit as many as 17 homers in his first career 52 games, and just the second Yankee, joining Gary Sanchez, who hit 20 last season.
“He continues to impress us,” Joe Girardi said. “When a man that size makes consistent contact, there’s going to be some damage.”
Well, he’s done that, and considerably more, in launching the Yankees to a surprising 17-9 start. The Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman discovered last night in the third inning that 2-and-0 is not a neighborhood you want to be in with Judge, and his next pitch, a 94-mph two-seam fastball, wound up leaving a vapor trail on its 435-foot flight onto the netting above Monument Park to cut the Yanks’ deficit to 6-5. Coming off a two-homer Tuesday, Judge was not a hitter to be challenged at that moment. And his surging confidence is only making him more dangerous.
“This year, I’ve had more of an aggressive approach and I’ve tried to attack something that’s in the middle of the field,” Judge said before Wednesday night’s game.
Is it really that simple? The stunning frequency of Judge’s moonshots suggests that something has clicked for him. But he also had a pair of singles, the second one helping spark the rally that put the Yankees ahead 8-6 in the seventh. Judge fell behind 1-and-2, then stayed with an 88-mph changeup, reaching to poke the pitch into shallow leftfield. He later scored the tying run on Chris Carter’s soft single over the shortstop’s head.
“It’s just experience,” Judge said of that key at-bat. “Those are like little chess matches.”
At this rate, Judge is soaring up the learning curve, and last night marked the first three-hit game of his young career. Over the seven-game homestand, he batted .524 (11-for-21) with six home runs and 12 RBIs.
“The good thing about him is you can tell from his demeanor and his attitude that he wants to improve,” said Jeter, a self-proclaimed Judge fan, during an interview posted on Yankees.com.
If Judge gets any better, the only comp left will be Babe Ruth.