Aaron Judge’s offensive barrage leaving Royals veterans in awe

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Seth Lugo still remembers the early days of Aaron Judge — the very early days. 

Back in 2014, the then-Mets prospect was trying to conquer the High-A level and faced off against the Tampa Yankees and their 6-foot-7 outfielder. 

“Huge guy then, huge guy now,” the now-Royals starting pitcher said Wednesday. “You could tell if you make a mistake, he’s probably going to be ready for it.” 

A decade later, Judge is 32 and playing better than he did when he broke into the league at 24; better than when he established himself as a star and swatted 52 home runs at 25; arguably better than when he broke the Yankees’ all-time, single-season record with 62 home runs in his age-30 season. 

Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) hits a single against the Kansas City Royals. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Yet again the larger-than-life star is making an early run at the record books and entered play with a majors-best 25 home runs, four in his past three games and a nonsensical .401/.520/.965 slash line in his past 41 games.

Judge entered play leading Major League Baseball in home runs, OPS (1.149), doubles (25) and walks (55) and was tied for first in RBIs (with Jose Ramirez at 62). 

How is a player in his ninth season and on the wrong side of 30 seemingly improving? The opposing clubhouse had theories. 

“I think his swing has probably gotten shorter over the years,” said Lugo, who faced a Judge-less Yankees lineup Monday and held Judge to 0-for-5 in their Subway Series days. “He doesn’t miss mistakes as often.” 

And he sees more pitches, which allows him a chance at seeing more mistakes. 

Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“He’s gotten smarter, understands what the league’s doing to him — or trying to do him,” Lugo said before hosting the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium. “It’s a game of learning.” 

A few around the Royals echoed Lugo’s thoughts.

The 6-7 body and the mighty swing will always be Judge’s dominant traits, but several cited an evolving knowledge of the strike zone and how pitchers will attack him. 

Royals reliever John Schreiber had yet to throw Judge a true mistake.

The former Red Sox righty entered play holding Judge hitless in four at-bats, though Judge had walked twice. 

Schreiber first faced off against Judge in 2019 and now sees a more disciplined hitter in the batter’s box. 

“Obviously he’s gotten smarter. He’s got a lot more experience,” said the 30-year-old Schreiber who is in his sixth big-league season. “He’s laying off pitches that he used to go after.” 

Royals starting pitcher Seth Lugo throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees. AP

According to FanGraphs, Judge entered play having swung at 16.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, which was third-best in the majors among qualified hitters. 

It also was the best mark of his career and a significant improvement from his chasing habits (23.2 percent) in 2022, when he set the home run mark and finished with a majors-best 1.111 OPS — which is less than his 2024 OPS. 

Everything about Judge is large, including his baseball IQ. 

“I’ve seen too much of him,” said Royals manager Matt Quatraro, who coached with the Rays from 2018-22. “This has only been one day I’ve seen him this year, but the biggest thing that’s evolved is his discipline at the plate to me. 

“He’s very rarely out of the zone, especially when things are going well, and he’s always been able to do damage. But he looks like he really understands the zone a lot now.” 

Judge, vying for his second MVP and perhaps a new home run record, might be putting himself in position for his first Triple Crown.

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees reacts after a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Getty Images

He entered play at least tied for the league lead in home runs and RBIs and with a .309 batting average that was third-best in the American League. 

Maybe a smarter Judge, with a career .284 average, has found one more avenue to improve. 

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Schreiber said. “He’s such a great hitter. He’s so fun to watch when you’re not playing him.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Investigators piece together the puzzling portrait of Trump's would-be assassin

After conducting more than 200 interviews and combing through his phone and…

Explained: What is CrowdStrike?

A major cyber incident has caused a global digital lockdown, with airports,…

Russia convicts US reporter of espionage after a trial widely seen as politically motivated

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was convicted on Friday of espionage…

Madonna’s son David Banda, 18, is ‘scavenging’ for food and selling guitar lessons in NYC despite mom’s $850M fortune – after moving out of her house: ‘It’s fun to be young’

Madonna’s son, David Banda, revealed that he is living a humble life…