Aaron Judge's 495-foot blast just the latest feat in his remarkably torrid start to the season

Sunday June 11th, 2017

What is there left to say about Aaron Judge? After a 3-for-4 outing on Saturday (with the hardest-hit home run since the start of the 2015 season), and a 4-for-4 outing on Sunday (with a 495-foot home run the deepest ever in the history of new Yankee Stadium, plus another dinger), the Yankees’ right fielder can reasonably be said to be the frontrunner for the American League MVP award. And that probably undersells his story.

Would anyone have believed a preseason forecast that the faded, sclerotic Yankees—whose outfielders as a group in 2016 posted a .700 OPS, fourth from the bottom in the majors—would be 37–23 on June 11, three and a half up in the AL East, with most of the credit going to an outfield OPSing better than .950 in 2017, a hundred and fifty points better than the closest AL competitor? Would anyone have believed that the undisputed star of that outfield would be a barely heralded six-foot-seven 25-year-old rookie who needed 93 games to hit 19 homers at Triple-A last year but this year has hit 21 bombs in 58 big-league games?

MLB
‘A freak,’ ‘incredible’: MLB players react to Aaron Judge’s 495-foot moonshot

Would anyone have believed that that rookie would take barely two months to become the most sensational act in the Bronx (sorry, Chase Headley) and perhaps baseball altogether, with his homers setting Statcast records in subsequent days? Would anyone have believed that the man with the biggest strike zone of any everyday player would lead his league in walks? Would anyone have believed that the man Baseball America has bumped down its prospect list in consecutive off-seasons is the prohibitive favorite for rookie of the year? Would anyone have believed the legend of Aaron Judge?

If Judge’s first half ended today, it would rank in the top 30 of all time, OPS-wise. Miguel Cabrera has never had a first half so good. It would be in the top 15 of all time for players under 26, behind only Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Frank Thomas, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Chuck Klein and Rogers Hornsby) and great hitters who could land there someday (Todd Helton, Lance Berkman and Bryce Harper).

How to Homer: One SI writer's quest to go deep in an MLB park

He’s got a month to go till the break, yes. Then again, a month ago, on May 11, Judge’s batting line stood at .308/.408/.738. Today it’s .334/.450/.718. Put another way, his batting averages and on-base percentages have climbed since an April so meritorious he landed the cover of Sports Illustrated. If he falls, he’ll be falling from a most elevated perch.

Would the Yankees have believed the legend, had some oracle tried to inform them what was coming? Of course not! Judge hit .179 last year and struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances. Nevertheless they put a little faith in the big man, and ever skyward he has taken them, 400-plus feet at a time.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.