Prior to the start of the 2017 season, baseball statistics site FanGraphs projected Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles to lead Major League Baseball with 35 home runs. Halfway through the season, the site is already off its mark as Davis is ranked 72 with just 14 home runs. The leader, however, is already closing in on Davis’ projected number.
The new leader has taken the MLB by storm. His name is Aaron Judge. If you don’t know the name yet, learn it. He’s the unexpected force that is rapidly becoming the new face of baseball.
The 6-foot-7, 280-pound outfielder is having an unbelievable season. Leading the league with 30 home runs, he has broken Joe DiMaggio’s record for home runs in a season by a New York Yankees rookie after just 90 of the 162 games on the schedule.
Along with his 30 dingers, Judge is hitting at a .313 clip and is tied for second in American League RBI with 67. He has also hit the second-longest home run of the season at 495 feet, and he hit one at 504 feet at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field in batting practice. Did I mention he’s only a rookie?
With his stature, these numbers aren’t surprising. A player that big is expected to hit home runs like it’s nothing due to his size and swing technique, according to ESPN Sport Science. But to fans who saw Judge play last season, this season’s first half came out of left field.
In 27 games between last August and September, Judge batted .179 with four home runs and 10 RBIs.
Now that Judge has figured out problems with his swing from last year, watching him play is amazing. His impact on the game has been so amazing through one half of the season that a section of the Yankee Stadium bleachers was named after him. Fans who sit in “The Judge’s Chambers” in section 104 wear black robes and wave gavels during the game to appear as “judges.”
Judge put on a show at the Home Run Derby July 10 in Miami. He became the only player in history to win the college and MLB derbies and the first MLB rookie to win outright. He totaled 47 home runs that night, including shots measuring 503 feet, 507 feet and 513 feet in the second round. It should also be noted he defeated Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano with 11 home runs in the final round with just under two minutes remaining on the clock.
Even commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged Judge’s impact while speaking to the Baseball Writers Association of America prior to the All-Star Game July 11, calling him the kind of player “who can become the face of baseball.”
Judge is exactly what baseball needs. People are starting to quit watching games on television because of how slow it is. Fans claim issues such as pitchers taking too much time, batters stalling to adjust their batting gloves and managers changing pitchers every other batter have slowed the game down lately.
But with Judge hitting home runs at the rate he is, people will tune in to simply watch him hit. ESPN announced ratings for the Home Run Derby were up 55 percent from last year and peaking from 8:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, which was when Judge was hitting in the first round. Of course, he hit a 501-foot bomb during that time — probably to make sure people stayed tuned in.
As the second half of the season kicks off, fans — even this Cubs fan — will keep tuning in to watch the rest of Judge’s historic season unfold. I hope he keeps it up. He’s fun to watch, and it’s good for the game. #AllRise.