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The Majesty of Watching Aaron Judge Mash

Five home runs that explain the joy the Yankees’ gigantic rookie brings by clubbing baseballs into outer space

(Getty Images/Ringer Illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer Illustration)

May 2, vs. Toronto Blue Jays, off Jason Grilli, 391 feet

Aaron Judge destroyed some stuff on Tuesday night. He broke a television located about 450 feet from home plate with a ball he clubbed in batting practice, and then the 25-year-old rookie outfielder hit two home runs to take the MLB lead with 12 on the season. The video above is of his most recent blast, and like most of his 12 it was a no-doubter, catapulted off the bat into restricted airspace and landing in rarely reached parts of the Yankee Stadium bleachers.

But the most important thing about Judge is something you notice about him before he even takes a swing. He is an enormous slab of human. Baseball rewards power, and power is often linked to size, and few players have ever been as freakin’ gigantic as the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge.

We’ve all seen players like Judge. Remember the kid in Little League who hit puberty at age 11, grew 6 inches taller than everyone else, and caused people to mumble about checking his birth certificate? Judge is that, but for the major leagues. Ryan Howard was a huge player, and he looks like Judge’s younger brother in a photo of the two standing next to each other. Yankees infielder Ronald Torreyes is a tiny MLB player, and he looks like Judge’s son. Torreyes has even taken to leaping to high-five Judge as a recurring celebration. "That’s the handshake we have," Torreyes told reporters in April. "He puts the hand real high. So I run and jump." (Teammates have sometimes been known to give Torreyes a boost.)

Only two hitters have been listed as taller than Judge in MLB history — Tony Clark and Nate Freiman, both 6-foot-8 — and a handful of players who weighed more — Walter Young is the record holder at 320 pounds, and Dmitri Young’s bio has him at 295. The only player of comparable build was Adam Dunn, who was heavier than Judge at 285 pounds, and shorter at 6-foot-6. Even Baseball Giant prototype Giancarlo Stanton stands a mere 6-foot-6, 245.

We should take any team weight listings with a grain of salt. A lot of times, franchises will list players as lighter than they are; the Red Sox listed David Ortiz as 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and if you think he was only 230 pounds, I have a bridge and a pile of Dominican boner pills to sell you. But Judge’s listing seems accurate. Judge has no pudge: It’s just that his entire body seems proportionally larger than an average human’s body. He is like a giant schnauzer who’s surrounded by miniature schnauzers. The bodies are proportional. One is just bigger.

Judge looks like he belongs in a different sport, starting with his uniform number — his no. 99 looks more at home on Warren Sapp, J.J. Watt, or Wayne Gretzky than it does on a baseball player. And even as the Yankees’ penchant for retiring numbers has rendered many of them off-limits, few have strayed into the 90s; wearing 99 is a choice for a rebel like Manny Ramírez more than for a staid True Yankee.

Honestly, though, Judge would barely seem average in any sport. While 6-foot-7 is a perfectly normal height for an NBA player, almost the ideal basketball height, Judge’s weight would be uncommon in hoops. Of the 45 players in the NBA this season who were listed at 6-foot-7, the heaviest was Pistons forward Stanley Johnson, who weighs 245 pounds — making him about 85 percent of the human that Judge is. There have been a few NFL players listed at 6-foot-7 and between 280 and 290 pounds, but in the modern game most guys that size are asked to either bulk up and become offensive linemen or slim down and become tight ends or defensive ends.

April 28, vs. Baltimore Orioles, off Kevin Gausman, 425 feet

This home run might not look spectacular — in fact, off the bat, it appears destined to be a hard-hit single. Yet this is the hardest-hit home run since MLB began tracking exit-velocity data with the introduction of Statcast, leaving Judge’s bat at 119.4 miles per hour. To be fair, this probably isn’t the hardest-hit home run of all time; Statcast technology was introduced only at the start of the 2015 season. But there have been 11,454 major league home runs since then, and one of Judge’s 16 career homers has the highest exit velocity among those.

The first homer in this post had a maximum height of 141 feet. This one? 58 feet. Judge can get under the ball, and he can hit a line drive, and both can result in home runs, because Judge is so monumentally powerful that, often, little else matters. Someday, the opposing shortstop is going to leap in an attempt to catch a Judge hit that goes on to fly over the fence.

More than half of Judge’s 12 dingers this year have traveled at least 400 feet. He may play his home games in Yankee Stadium, but he’s not regularly getting these homers by taking advantage of the short right-field porch.

April 19, vs. Chicago White Sox, off Dylan Covey, 451 feet

I yell DAMN at the screen every time. Damn!

This isn’t Judge’s hardest-hit home run, but it’s perhaps his most impressive. Covey’s pitch was a curveball, thrown at 78 miles per hour. It leaves Judge’s bat at 115.5 miles per hour, the largest discrepancy between pitch speed and exit velocity in the Statcast era. It makes sense that someone can turn a 99 mph heater into a hard-hit ball; Judge jolts energy into this homer all by himself.

Judge might be MLB’s first Statcast superstar. Blasting 12 dingers in 24 games is amazing regardless of how hard the balls are hit; with all this data, though, we can see just how violently he’s crushing it. In limited at-bats last year, Judge led the league in average exit velocity at 96.8 miles per hour. This year, he has put eight balls in play at a speed of of 115 miles per hour or higher. All of the players in the National League have done that a combined four times.

At its core, baseball is about hitting the dang ball hard. Batters can try to aim where they put the ball in play, but any attempt at precision is going to have flaws. The best approach is usually just to smack the ball as hard as possible and hope for the best, and Judge smacks it harder than anybody since we developed the technology to pay attention.

April 26, at Boston, off Rick Porcello, 391 feet

Despite his obvious natural talents, Judge has struggled at times in his career, causing some to think the former first-round pick was falling behind other Yankees prospects like Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. When he was promoted to Triple-A in 2015, he initially seemed lost, hitting just .224 with eight home runs in 61 games. He adjusted the next year, bumping his average up to .270 with 19 bombs. Then, when he got promoted to the majors in 2016, he hit .179 and struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats. Sure, he led the league in that fancy exit velocity stat, but he whiffed too often to be effective.

But he has adjusted. We could focus on the small changes Judge has made that show he’s acclimated to the major leagues: He strikes out less, he walks more, his 2017 average sits at .313, etc.

Instead, let’s just watch the above video of him hitting an opposite-field home run off reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. I’d say that’s a sign he’s ready to play at this level.

April 22, at Pittsburgh, off Antonio Bastardo, 460 feet

I’m not sure what the best part of watching a Judge dinger is: the quarter-second as the ball rockets off the TV screen, or the cameraperson’s slow scan upward as they settle on a section of stadium not meant for baseballs to land in. No matter what draws you to the game, there is something in Aaron Judge for you.

He is a joy for Yankees fans, who have a homegrown budding superstar on their squad, which is a refreshing change of pace for a franchise that has spent the past decade and a half overpaying for free agents like Jason Giambi, Carl Pavano, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Non-Yankees fans have gotten used to any decent player on the Yankees being toxically unappealing. For the first time in a while, New York has a standout whom I could imagine fans of other teams supporting.

You can sell him to people who like defensive highlights. Here he is diving into the stands to make a catch; here he is turning into a baseball-launching cannon while not holding a bat.

There is something for the advanced stats nerd, a retinue of never-before-heard data that explains why he’s good. And his chief appeal is obvious: This guy wallops the living hell out of the ball. He passes the eye test with flying colors.

We are all united by the majesty of this mighty baseball Paul Bunyan clobbering tiny balls with the trunk of an oak tree that he ripped out of the ground with his bare hands.

Aaron Judge is my big, beefy, ball-bashing baby boy, and I love him.