Here comes da Judge
First, you might check this out: I wrote something about Aaron Judge over on MLB. The basic premise is that Judge is having a weird year. He’s absolutely crushing the ball at home. He’s absolutely getting crushed on the road. The difference is striking — most of the key numbers are there in the story.
This is about something a little bit different.
This is about the first thing that I suspect popped into your mind when you saw Aaron Judge’s home and road numbers.
You’ve probably heard Bill James’ thoughts about bullshit. Summing it up, he believes that the world (and more specific to our thoughts, baseball) will always be overwhelmed by BS. Why? Because bullshit has three titanic advantages over real knowledge. It requires no work. It requires no proof. And it’s available to all of us in unlimited supply.
The mind is so good at bullshitting. Give us any odd stat, any surprising fact, any quirk, and our mind will immediately come up with a theory of why it is so. And, remarkably, if you then say, no, actually the exact opposite is true, our mind will immediately shift and give you a theory why THAT is true. We can’t help it. One of my favorite examples involves teams in any sport that sweep in the playoffs and then get a long rest before playing in the next round.
If that team WINS then it is because they got rested, rejuvenated, injured players got healthy, everybody was energized.
If that team LOSES then it is because they got rusty, they lost focus, they lost their edge, they came out flatfooted.
This is pure, unrefined BS. The mind sees effect and seeks cause. Hey, I don’t just do this as often as most people, I do it MUCH MORE than most people. I’m not unaware. I even have a BS theory I threw into the Aaron Judge story. In my defense, I threw it out there as a wild theory that might be worth exploring. At the very least, I don’t believe my own BS.
When you saw Aaron Judge’s home run numbers — using “you” in a general way not you specifically — you thought, “Well, Yankee Stadium is ridiculous hitters ballpark,” didn’t you? You see that over two seasons, he has hit 53 homers at home, 28 on the road, and you thought of that ludicrous right-field fence there, so short, so inviting, and you could just picture Judge poking routine fly balls over that wall, right?
I only suspect you thought that because I thought that. It was the first thing that came to my mind, and I fully intended to write it.
The problem with it is that even a token bit of research shows: It isn’t true.
First of all, Yankee Stadium is NOT a good hitters park for right-handed hitters. It just isn’t. I show a couple of examples of this in the story — Gary Sanchez is a bit worse over his career at Yankee Stadium, Giancarlo Stanton is hitting terribly at Yankee Stadium, and so on. It has been a fantastic home run park for lefties, absolutely, Curtis Granderson mashed there, Raul Ibanez mashed there, Robbie Cano mashed there, but righties? Blech. Remember the Vernon Wells experiment? The Matt Holiday thing? Chris Carter? A-Rod didn’t hit great there. Jeter didn’t hit great there. There’s a long history, going back three ballparks, of Yankee Stadium stifling the life out of right-handed hitters. This version of Yankee Stadium isn’t the right-handed graveyard that Joe DiMaggio played in, but it’s still decidedly a left-handed park.
So, you quickly say (for BS moves faster than the speed of light): Judge is just a different kind of right-handed hitter. He has opposite field power that others lack. He has a knack for poking fly balls the other way.
But does he?
Judge has hit 25 home runs this year. How many do you think were Yankee Stadium pokes to right field of less than, say, 350 feet? I count two — both in the last week, one off Anibal Sanchez and one off Luiz Gohara. The Gohara one was right down the right-field line so it probably would have gone most places. You could argue the 355 foot homer he hit off Anthony Swarzak was a bit of a cheapie, I suppose, though that one would probably have gone out of most parks.
So MAYBE you could say three of his home runs were ballpark enhanced. It’s probably just one.
Anyway, it isn’t just home runs. Judge does everything better at Yankee Stadium. He walks more. He strikes out less. He hits the ball considerably harder at home. His batting average on balls in play at Yankee Stadium this year — and remember, this does not include home runs — is .452. On the road, it’s .250. He showed signs of this last year, especially in the second half; he hit .227 on the road last year after July 4. Everybody talked about what a lousy playoffs he had (.188 average, astounding 27 strikeouts), but he went 7-for-21 with three doubles and three homers at Yankee Stadium. That’s MVP stuff. He only ended up having a lousy overall playoffs because he went 2-for-27 on the road with one extra base hit and 15 strikeouts.
Yes, of course, these are small sample sizes. But for all the world, it appears Aaron Judge is a different hitter at home.
And like most things, the reason defies simple answers, defies BS. Pal and Statcast guru Mike Petriello suggests after some research that Judge actually IS a different hitter at home. He hits the other way more often. He clearly tries to take advantage of the park’s benefits. But he concludes that if Judge is doing that he absolutely should pretend he’s ALWAYS hitting at Yankee Stadium because that approach is simply better for him.
I mentioned above that I offered my own BS guess in the story — I just wonder if Judge is more comfortable not only at Yankee Stadium but in New York. There has been a longstanding theory (which I suspect is mostly BS) that there are players who cannot handle New York, cannot deal with the bigness of the city, the rush, the tabloid back-pages, the cynicism and whatever else. I do know that Yankees officials do spend a lot of time considering this when they acquire players through the draft or trade or free agency.
Well, if that’s true — and I’m not saying it is — maybe the opposite is true as well. Maybe Aaron Judge just thrives in the city.