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Aaron Judge is becoming more like Derek Jeter

Judge is using a more Jeterian approach this season.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The suffix “-ian” is an honor. It changes a name into an adjective indicating respect and accomplishment in one’s field. We study Aristotelian logic, use Bayesian statistics, practice Pavlovian conditioning, and learn Newtonian physics.

Not many baseball players have achieved the “-ian” suffix, but Derek Jeter was certainly deserving. His “inside out” swing, with which he slapped thousands of hits to the opposite field, was frequently described by John Sterling as “Jeterian.”

Aaron Judge is a much different kind of player. The behemoth right fielder has been hitting about as well as ever this season; his .293/.425/.517 slash line is mostly in line with his .274/.400/.562 career marks. (His bat is as important as ever, given that five of the six best Yankees are hurt.)

No one would rightly describe Aaron Judge as a singles hitter. If such a thing as a Judgian blast exists, it looks something like this:

No doubt, Judge is best known for moonshots. He has 87 home runs through his first 310 games in the majors. However, his approach has changed this season.

Here’s his spray chart of every ball in play in his career:

The spread is fairly even. While he looks physically like he ought to be a dead pull hitter, he actually sprays the ball around considerably.

His 2019 spray chart shows something different:

It’s early in the season, but he’s definitely going the other way more often. That’s not a bad idea in Yankee Stadium, as evidenced by those two home runs by the foul pole (even though one of them was in Houston).

The numbers support the visual evidence that he’s shooting for right field this season. Here’s his year-by-year batted ball breakdown:

Aaron Judge Batted Ball Breakdown

Year Pull % Straight % Oppo %
Year Pull % Straight % Oppo %
2016 46.5 34.9 18.6
2017 39.1 34.6 26.3
2018 37.2 35.3 27.4
2019 32.4 32.4 35.3

He’s going the other way nearly twice as often as his debut season. It’s too early to discern whether or not this approach is working, but his batting average is elevated slightly and his slugging is a little depressed. In other words, he’s getting more singles at the expense of some home runs. He only has four of them so far this year, two of which were Jeterian wall-scrapers down the right field line.

A different part of his batted ball profile yields further evidence of a changed approach.

Aaron Judge Line Drives and Fly Balls

Year Line drive % Fly ball %
Year Line drive % Fly ball %
2016 20.9 34.9
2017 26.3 33.1
2018 27.1 28.6
2019 35.3 23.5

Again, it’s still early in the season, but he’s hitting more line drives at the expense of fly balls. This supports the idea that he’s becoming more of a contact hitter and less of a slugger.

Let’s look at some photo evidence. Here is Judge hitting a pair of zone five pitches (middle-middle). The first is a fly ball to center field from 2018:

The second is from 2019, same pitch location. Judge slaps it to right field for a line drive single.

There really isn’t much discernible difference, but he appears to be crouching just a little more this season. It’s possible he’s trying to stay back on the ball, letting it travel longer through the strike zone before making contact, as opposed to opening up quicker and hitting it in the air.

This is not cause for concern. He’s still phenomenally powerful, and will surely get his share of dingers. Besides, his 156 wRC+ this season is a near match for his career 155 wRC+. He’s just arriving there via a slightly different path.

Besides, as Jeter himself proved on his 3,000th hit, an oppo-hitter can still pull the ball a long way when he wants to, even if it’s not very Jeterian.

Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at Tweets @depstein1983