How Aaron Judge turned his season around in just two weeks as Yankees slugger

On Wednesday night, the New York Yankees continued their perennial dismantling of the Minnesota Twins with a 4-0 win at Target Field (box score). The Yankees are 119-44 against the Twins since 2002, postseason included. That’s a 118-win pace across 162 games. New York will go for the three-game sweep Thursday afternoon.

Marcus Stroman and two relievers combined for Wednesday’s shutout win and Aaron Judge led the offense. He had a home run — a towering 467-foot blast into the third deck — and three doubles to become the first player with four extra-base hits in a game this season. Judge had a chance at a fifth extra-base hit in the ninth, but alas and alack, he walked.

Judge is the first player with four extra-base hits in a game since, well, Aaron Judge last year. He had three homers and a double against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 22. Judge joins Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth as the only players in Yankees history with multiple games with four extra-base hits. That’s some company there.

“We’re getting there. Not there yet,” Judge said Wednesday when asked how he feels at the plate (via MLB.com). “Hopefully we get there when we’re talking in November.”

It wasn’t too long ago that Judge was struggling so much at the plate that manager Aaron Boone said he wouldn’t rule out a lineup change. That change almost certainly would have meant flipping Judge and Juan Soto in the No. 2-3 spots, not demoting Judge down in the lineup, but Judge’s slow start had become a capital-T Thing and Boone was being asked about daily.

As recently as May 2, Judge was hitting .197/.331/.393. In the 11 games since, he’s gone 17 for 39 (.436) with seven doubles and five home runs, raising his season batting line to .255/.386/.540. In two weeks, Judge went from a possible lineup change to ranking fifth in the American League in OPS+. Good reminder that a) it’s still fairly early, and b) Judge is still really, really good.

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Judge got booed on his bobblehead day at Yankee Stadium on April 20 and, at the time, we presented several theories about why he was struggling at the plate. Maybe it was irreversible age-related decline. Maybe he didn’t like being in Soto’s shadow. Or maybe it was simply a slump, and he was still searching for his timing after an abdominal injury sidelined him late in spring training.

The biggest difference between Judge now and Judge two weeks ago is that when he’s getting a pitch to hit, he’s hammering it. Not swinging through it or fouling it back or popping up. Judge’s infield pop up rate was astronomical earlier this season. It was perhaps the best piece of evidence his timing was out of whack. Now his infield pop up rate is back near his career average.

Sweet-spot rate is the percentage of batted balls in the 8-32 degree launch angle range, which is optimal. That’s the range in which line drives and fly balls with a chance to carry over the wall. Below 8 degrees and it’s a ground ball or low line drive. Above 32 degrees and it’s most likely a can of corn. This tells us Judge is hitting the ball on a line far more frequently that he was earlier this year:

Aaron Judge has rediscovered his timing and is hitting balls on a line again.

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Just to put numbers on it: Judge’s career sweet-spot rate is 39.4% and the MLB average is around 33%. He was in the top 20% of the league in sweet-spot rate every year from 2021-23. This season, Judge is sporting a 37.7% sweet-spot rate overall, though it was 35.4% in April and is 47.2% in May. So yes, Judge is crushing the ball on a line far more often than he was a few weeks ago.

The Yankees survived Judge’s slow start because Soto, the super early AL MVP favoritecan carry a team by himself, and because they’ve have gotten outstanding pitching even with Gerrit Cole on the injured list. Make no mistake though, Judge is the engine that drives the Yankees. Without him performing at a high level, a division title or deep postseason run would be nigh impossible.

By OPS, April was the worst month of Judge’s career with at least 120 plate appearances. He wasn’t striking out excessively though and he was still putting up exit velocities few in the game could match. Judge wasn’t producing but he wasn’t overmatched either. Now he looks to be back on track at the plate, and is again a threat to hit a ball off the scoreboard each time he gets in the box.

“Hitting is hard, even for great ones. Even the guys that have the best of years and win MVPs, there’s still peaks and valleys,” Boone said Wednesday (via MLB.com). “I think it’s more just getting on time and recognizing pitches and getting your swing off. He’s done a great job of that here the last couple of weeks.”

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