Yankees arm reveals Aaron Judge’s rare trait, opponents marvel at slugger

Fans are overjoyed at Kauffman Stadium after New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge hits a two-run home run against the Kansas City Royals on June 11, 2024.
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John Allen
Friday June 14, 2024

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New York Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle recently shared an intriguing tidbit about the team’s captain, Aaron Judge, during an appearance on “FoulTerritoryTV.” Very few in the MLB world are aware that the bullpen arm had already bonded with the slugger over video games years before meeting him in person in the Bronx.

Reflecting on Aaron Judge’s character, Kahnle noted that his captain has remained the same over the years, with one notable exception: his fiery reactions to losing in FIFA, a popular football video game. However, Kahnle was quick to clarify that even in those moments, the Yankees superstar wasn’t one to throw controllers in frustration.

“2014, before anybody knew who Aaron Judge was. So we used to play a game called Destiny. It was actually when Judgy was in the minor leagues. We had a common friend in the Yankees system, so we kind of linked up, and played this game together. Then when I got traded back over to the Yankees, that’s the first time I ever actually met him, but I knew Judgy for a few years just playing video games with him,” Kahnle said.

According to Kanhle, Aaron Judge and he have known each other since 2014 through a mutual friend in the Yankees system.

This rare insight into Aaron Judge’s competitive spirit off the field contrasts with his usual composed nature in the clubhouse and during games. His ability to stay calm and collected has been instrumental in his leadership role, helping to create a positive atmosphere within the team alongside Yankees manager Aaron Boone. This modern approach marks a departure from the more intense clubhouse environments of the past.

Even so, Aaron Judge’s composed exterior occasionally shows cracks. Last month, he experienced his first career ejection during a game against the Detroit Tigers. The incident occurred after a strikeout on a close call by home plate umpire Ryan Blakney. He murmured comments while returning to the dugout led to his immediate ejection, though the Yankees went on to win 5-3.

The New York Yankees’ social media team recently conducted a lighthearted session with the players, asking them who they would choose as their emergency contact. While many players named their teammates, popular choices emerged in the form of Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole.

instagram-yankees

Interestingly, Cole himself selected Judge as his emergency contact, citing the captain’s influence and connections within the city. However, when it came to Judge’s choice, he opted for his close friend and teammate, Anthony Rizzo.

Aaron Judge’s power leaves Royals veterans awestruck

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Seth Lugo has had his eye on New York Yankees star Aaron Judge since their days in High-A ball in 2014 when Lugo was a Mets prospect and the Yankees slugger was with the Tampa Yankees. Even back then, Lugo saw Judge’s immense potential, recognizing that any mistake pitch was likely to be punished by the 6-foot-7 outfielder.

Now, a decade later, 32-year-old Aaron Judge is performing at an even higher level than when he debuted at 24, made headlines with 52 home runs at 25, or set the Yankees’ single-season home run record with 62 at age 30. As of Wednesday, he leads the majors in home runs (25), OPS (1.149), doubles (25), and walks (55), and is tied for first in RBIs (62) with Jose Ramirez.

Lugo and others in the Royals clubhouse have their theories on how Aaron Judge has managed to elevate his game in his ninth season, despite being over 30. Lugo believes the slugger’s swing has become more compact, allowing him to capitalize on more pitches. Additionally, Aaron Judge’s improved patience at the plate means he sees more pitches, increasing his chances to exploit mistakes.

Lugo also attributes Aaron Judge’s success to his enhanced baseball IQ, noting that the slugger has a better grasp of how pitchers are trying to challenge him. He emphasized that baseball is a game of continuous learning, and Aaron Judge has adapted impressively.

Several members of the Royals organization echoed Lugo’s observations, acknowledging Aaron Judge’s remarkable development and sustained dominance. As the Yankees captain continues his historic pace, his offensive prowess shows no signs of waning, leaving opposing pitchers scrambling for ways to contain the larger-than-life star.

Opponents in Kansas City have noted that despite Aaron Judge’s imposing 6-foot-7 stature and formidable power at the plate, he has notably improved his grasp of the strike zone and his approach against pitchers. Royals reliever John Schreiber, who has faced Aaron Judge four times without allowing a hit but has walked him twice, first encountered the Yankee slugger in 2019 and now sees a more disciplined hitter at the plate.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 31: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees hits a solo home run against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the six inning at Oracle Park on May 31, 2024 in San Francisco, California.
Thearon W. Henderson

Schreiber, a 30-year-old right-hander in his sixth major league season, remarked that Aaron Judge has become smarter and more experienced, enabling him to avoid pitches he previously chased. According to FanGraphs, Aaron Judge entered Wednesday’s play swinging at just 16.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, the third-best rate among qualified hitters in the majors. This marks a significant improvement from his 23.2 percent chase rate in 2022 when he set the Yankees‘ single-season home run record and led the majors with a 1.111 OPS.

Royals manager Matt Quatraro, who coached with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2018 to 2022, has seen plenty of Aaron Judge over the years and believes his biggest evolution has been in plate discipline. Quatraro noted that the slugger was rarely out of the zone, especially when locked in, and always could inflict damage.

As Aaron Judge aims for his second MVP award and potentially another home run record, he might also be positioning himself for his first Triple Crown. As of Wednesday, he was at least tied for the league lead in home runs and RBIs, with his .309 batting average ranking third in the American League. With a career average of .284, it’s possible that a smarter, more disciplined Aaron Judge has found yet another way to elevate his game.

Schreiber summed up the sentiment surrounding Aaron Judge’s performance, stating that the numbers speak for themselves and that the slugger is not only a great hitter but also incredibly fun to watch when you’re not playing against him.

Oddsmakers overwhelmingly favor Aaron Judge for AL MVP

Yankees' Aaron Judge celebrates with Juan Soto after his home run against the White Sox at Yankee Stadium on May 19, 2024.
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New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has taken the lead in the American League MVP race, overtaking his teammate Juan Soto, who had been the favorite earlier in the season. According to Caesars Sportsbook, Judge is now the odds-on favorite at -130, with Soto trailing at +520.

Aaron Judge’s surge in the MVP race is due to his phenomenal performance over the last month and a half. In May, he was named AL Player of the Month after hitting .371/.488/.928 with 14 home runs, 27 RBIs, 12 doubles, and 28 runs scored. His 1.397 OPS for the month was the highest by any player in over five seasons.

Continuing his hot streak into June, Aaron Judge has hit five home runs with a 1.657 OPS in 10 games heading into Thursday’s game against the Kansas City Royals. Overall, Judge’s season stats are a .307/.433/.702 slash line, leading the league with 25 home runs.

2024 AL MVP odds
PlayerOdds
Aaron Judge-130
Bobby Witt Jr.350
Gunnar Henderson425
Juan Soto520
Jose Ramirez16/1
Kyle Tucker16/1

Soto’s slide in the MVP odds is more a testament to Aaron Judge’s extraordinary play than a reflection of any decline in Soto’s performance. Despite an elbow injury earlier this month, Soto has maintained an impressive .381/.588/.762 slash line with two homers in June.

Having two Yankees in the MVP conversation highlights the team’s success through the first two and a half months of the season. Despite a 4-3 loss to the Royals on Thursday, the Yankees still hold an MLB-best 49 wins.

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