BOSTON — Aaron Judge is 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds, but the reason his teammates think he will repeat his MVP numbers in the second half is because of his brain. It is Judge’s approach that makes the New York Yankees believe Judge will end up with what is projected to be a better home run total than Mickey Mantle ever achieved.
Judge is on pace for 57 home runs, while Mantle’s best season was 54. Judge will continue to hit home runs, his teammates think, because he doesn’t try to.
“If he keeps doing what he is doing, he is going to be great,” fellow All-Star Luis Severino said. “He is a smart guy. He is not always looking to hit a homer.”
Judge is hitting .326 with 30 homers and 66 RBIs. He is the leading candidate to win both the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards. He has been anointed by none other than commissioner Rob Manfred as possibly the next face of baseball.
What people around the Yankees have known and the rest of baseball saw in Miami at the All-Star Game is that Judge does have that Jeter-esque quality of being able to handle the big moment with ease.
Last year, even when he struck out in half of his 84 at-bats, he never seemed flustered. That has continued into this season, and he has grown into perhaps baseball’s biggest star.
“He is confident about what he is doing,” another Yankees All-Star, Dellin Betances said. “He is swinging at good pitches. He is taking his walks when he needs to. He is not just out there trying to hit home runs. He’s taking what he gets. I think that is the biggest thing.
“He is hitting .330 and has 30 home runs. It is not like he is hitting .250 and he is just trying to hit homers every time. He is taking what he gets. I think that will help him in the second half.”
Judge still strikes out a great deal — 109 times in first half — but when he puts the ball in play, his average is at a historic pace. In 1923, Babe Ruth hit .478 when he didn’t strike out. It took 77 years before anyone matched that mark when Manny Ramirez hit that same number when balls were put in play. In the first half, Judge hit .516 when he made contact.
The fact that he makes such strong contact combined with how his swing is very fluid, balanced and compact makes it feel like a slump is unlikely.
“He has simplified his swing,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He is just so strong. I’ve said before. Some of his popups are home runs. The balls that he misses are home runs. That’s an advantage most people don’t have. His line drives that some people [would] have to come in and catch [off other hitters], they end up hitting the back of the stands. His power is incredible.”
While unlikely, Judge has a chance at the Triple Crown. He entered the second half third in average in the American League, though 19 points behind Jose Altuve. He was first in homers and his 66 RBIs were second.
“Unbelievable,” Betances said. “I mean, I feel like you can’t really have a better first half. He pretty much carried us for where we are now. He has been a big part of the offense and defense, as well. It is exciting.”