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Aaron Judge’s Bat Booms After April Gloom to Beat Gehrig Record

June 5th, 2024

For New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, March and April were abysmal at the plate. May was bliss and garnered him honors as American League Player of the Month. June has thus far been more of the same.

What changed?

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“It seems like every season I have one of those months when things aren’t going your way,” Judge said in a recent interview. “It was tough that it had to be April at the beginning, especially with the type of team we have and how good we are. Hopefully this doesn’t happen again the rest of the year.”

In his first 31 games, Judge hit .207 with six homers, six doubles and 18 RBIs.

Judge said in April that lingering damage from last season’s torn ligament in his right big toe might have been the reason. He was even booed at Yankee Stadium, though he understood the fan reaction, he said.

“I’ve got a job to do, and especially in New York, you’ve got to show up every single day.” Judge said. “And I wasn’t showing up, so I understand there was a lot of questions, and now it’s past us.”

Well past.

In his next 28 games through May 31, Judge hit .361 with 27 RBIs, 14 homers and 12 doubles. The latter two figures broke a Yankees record for homers and doubles in a single month—Lou Gehrig hit 12 and 12 in July 1930.

That’s heady company.

It’s continued in June with another homer, bringing his total to a Major League Baseball-leading 21 this season. His OPS was .754 at the end of April and is now a gaudy 1.084, also tops in MLB. His OPS+ is sitting at 203 for this season; the league mean is 100.

“That’s why he’s the captain,” Yankees pitcher Carlos Rodón said.

Judge is on his way to becoming the fastest player to hit 300 homers; he’s hit 278 homers in 897 career games. The fastest is Sammy Sosa, who hit 300 homers in 1,052 games. Judge, at 32 years of age, has 56 games to hit 22 homers, a fairly torrid pace.

Judge and teammate Juan Soto have been spectacular leading the team to a 42-19 first-place record, 2 1/2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East.

“They are imposing,” said San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin, whose club was swept by the Yankees in a three-game weekend series at Oracle Park. The series also served as Judge’s homecoming to the Bay Area; he grew up in Linden, Calif., some 90 miles to the east.

“You dream about it in the backyard, playing around a little bit,” Judge said after hitting a pair of homers at Oracle on Friday night. “Rounding the bases, I looked out to left field, being in those bleachers a couple of times. It just brought back some memories.”

Last year, Judge was rolling along until June 3 at Dodger Stadium when he ran into a right field gate while making a catch, injuring his toe.

The centerfielder was hitting .291 with 19 homers and 40 RBIs before he was injured and subsequently missed 42 games. After his return, he hit .245 with 18 homers and 35 RBIs as the Yankees finished 82-80, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016. His slumping numbers carried over through the start of this season.

Judge’s current level of play is what the Yankees wanted and expected when they signed Judge in 2022, then a free agent, to a nine-year, $360 million contract—the largest in team history—and made him team captain, the first since Derek Jeter.

“When he gets locked in like this, it’s just different,” Yanks manager Aaron Boone said.

Judge is not built for gloating. He homered and struck out four times in an 8-3 victory on May 30 over the Los Angeles Angels in Angel Stadium, and he preferred to dwell on the whiffs, not the homer. He and Soto knocked in five of the eight runs.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Judge said. “Like I always say, it doesn’t matter how you start. You’re always going to have good months, bad months. Try to stay consistent, and it’s all going to work itself out. It’s been a good month with a lot of wins, and we want to keep it on a roll in June.”

The often-injured Judge had a 2022 season for the ages, breaking Roger Maris’ team and American League record with 62 homers. That year he also led the league with 133 runs scored, 131 RBIs, a .425 on-base percentage, a .686 slugging percentage, a 1.111 OPS, a 210 OPS+ and 391 total bases. His .311 batting average left him just shy of the Triple Crown.

Judge was named the American League MVP as his contract lapsed, and the Yanks outbid the Giants and San Diego Padres in the free-agent market.

With the captaincy and the big money came a lot more responsibility, and Judge has maintained a tight relationship with Yanks principal owner Hal Steinbrenner.

In the offseason, Judge and Steinbrenner often met. On Judge’s recommendation, Steinbrenner kept Boone as manager. It was Steinbrenner’s decision to retain Brian Cashman as general manager. It took until November for those decisions to be implemented. Cashman then engineered the deal with the Padres to obtain Soto, who has helped recast the team.

The Yanks have been so impressed by Soto, they will attempt this offseason to retain him as a free agent, although the club is aware he will want a deal well north of what Judge is earning. Preliminary talks between Steinbrenner and agent Scott Boras are expected to commence soon. Soto says he’s open to all suitors.

That seems to be fine with Judge. The two sit atop the American League lead in on-base percentage—Judge at .422 with Soto at .418—and they are a big reason why the Yanks are leading MLB with 90 homers and hitting .255 as a team.

“We’re just feeding off each other,” Judge said. “I’m watching his at-bats, getting a lot of info. I don’t mind him walking. I don’t mind him hitting homers. I don’t mind whatever he does. It’s a treat to watch day in and day out.”

The same can be said for Judge.

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