Aaron Judge’s Defensive Impact

New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner (11) watches as Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, center, and Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks (31) celebrate the Yankees 9-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox in a baseball game in New York, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Big outfielder more than just long home runs

The 6-foot-7 282-pound freak of nature that patrols right field in the Bronx is widely recognized for his off-the-charts power. In his rookie season, Aaron Judge hit 52 homeruns and displayed his monumental natural power in route to winning the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year award and finishing as the MVP runner-up. When discussing this extraordinary talent, no one talks about his impact on the defensive side of the game. However, he is building up credibility as a reliable right fielder who saves runs for his pitching staff. The unique athlete runs a 6.7 60-yard dash and most likely could have made a career in the NFL or NBA if that had been the path he chose. Imagine Aaron Judge running a fade route against a cornerback or backing down a small forward in the post. His athleticism cannot be understated, and this directly translates to the ample development with his glove. This fluidity on the baseball field is the foundation of why Judge has improved so much.

This unique skill set combined with a high baseball IQ displayed by Judge, has cultivated grounds for massive progress. He continues to put in the necessary work to ensure that he is making an impact on the game in every way possible. As a young player, Judge struggled with mental lapses on defense and was never known for being a difference maker in the outfield. When you look deeper into his skills now, you can see there is potential for him to truly become an impactful two-way player. In the 2013 draft, his mental makeup was a calling card and one of the reasons the Yankees took the risk on him with the 33rd pick. They believed he had the mental toughness, patience, and work ethic necessary to succeed, overcome holes in his swing and improve on his subpar defense. In his interviews leading up to the draft, it was clear Judge was a smart baseball player and understood how hard he had to work to make it one day. The Yankees could not have been more spot on in this evaluation of Judge. So far in his career, he has worked extremely hard, learned from his experiences and become proficient as an outfielder at the big-league level. His trajectory will continue to shoot up both offensively and defensively due to his mental make-up and ambition to be one of the all-time greats.

Although these qualities are important, it takes more than mental makeup and ambition to make an impact at the game’s highest level. The former Rookie of the Year has the physical tools to succeed. This includes his absolute rocket for an arm. His large frame generates an incredible amount of momentum behind each throw, so much so that he can get up to 100 miles per hour throwing from the outfield. In a recent series against the Los Angeles Angels, the star RF threw out catcher Martin Maldonado along with outfielder Kole Calhoun at the plate in the same game. Both players had no business running, yet did so anyway. The Yankees ended up winning the game 2-1, with Judge’s defensive impact highlighting the one-run victory. With the way he is developing into a star and coming into his own, it is easy to see that not only does he possess the elite arm strength but, the throwing accuracy is developing as well, making him even more dangerous to run on. He has focused on what it takes to not only make an explosive throw but also a quality throw. His recent precision has become a weapon of note for an underwhelming Yankees defense. This arsenal will only improve with more experience for the 26-year old.

The most significant improvement for Judge is that he has become more comfortable in his body. At 6-foot 7, 282 pounds, Judge has many large moving parts, and does not necessarily have a body built for speed. With this being said, he has incredibly impressive speed for his size. Over the years, he has matured and his body control has become much more fluid. As a result, the league has seen one of Judge’s biggest weaknesses coming out college, become a strength for the young player. Judge utilizes his long strides to cover ground quickly and has drastically improved on the routes he takes to the ball. His range is no longer a question. He is quickly learning the nuances of the game when running down fly balls and has even made one start in centerfield this year. The outfielder knows that in order to be an all-time great, he must work to fix the holes in his game. He has completely overcome his defensive deficiencies to prove a valuable piece to the Yankees outfield.

In a year in which the Yankees have been so talented in every phase but defense, it is a pleasant surprise to see Judge make such positive strides in this aspect of his game. The Yankees are not a bad defensive team but, fundamentally they must improve on common mistakes and mental lapses in the field. They currently rank 12th in the league in total errors committed. If you are a team gunning for a World Series Championship it is essential to have a team built to make consistent outs on the defensive side of the ball. Just like Aaron Judge, the Yankees are well on their way to playing defense at an extremely high level.