Remember Aaron Judge’s miserable April? Ancient history

NEW YORK — For all the data available to analyze the players and events on the diamond, sometimes the reason a batter abruptly snaps out of a slump is elementary. At least it was for Aaron Judge, currently the hottest hitter on the planet.

“I think just not missing the ball,” Judge said with a chuckle. “When I’m getting a pitch to hit, trying to just get the barrel on it, and it’s working right now.”

Judge owned a .197 batting average and .725 OPS after an oh-fer in a loss on May 2. Though the Yankees were 20-13, powered by one of the stingiest pitching staffs in the majors and newcomer Juan Soto’s near daily exploits, Judge’s surprisingly slow April hardly went unnoticed. Since then, though, Judge has resumed being his typical MVP self — he was named American League Player of the Week on Monday — while the Yankees have, as a result, reached another level, winning 13 of their last 16 games.

Judge is batting .436 with seven home runs, 10 doubles and 15 walks over that stretch. His on-base percentage since May 3 is .563. His slugging percentage is 1.000. Do the math, and his OPS is 1.563, raising his season total 263 points — from .725 to .988 — in less than three weeks.

Aaron Boone usually notices something — a swing, an at-bat, a batting practice session — that indicates Judge is about to bust out of a slump. Six-plus seasons around a player makes it almost second nature. But if there was a moment that helped spark this recent explosion — in which Judge has launched multiple missiles deep into the outfield grass — if not the bleacher seats — his manager didn’t see it.

“Not this time,” Boone said.

Judge has sparked an offense that had previously battled inconsistency even as the team found ways to win. The Yankees, after being shut out five times in their first 30 games, have scored at least five runs in eight of their last 15 games without being held scoreless. Judge’s production has elevated the Yankees from a team off to a surprising start without ace Gerrit Cole to a dominant ballclub with the second-best record in the big leagues. The Yankees, with Judge raking again, look like the Yankees again.

“I know people were kind of asking questions about his start of the year,” Yankees starter Nestor Cortes said. “But we know it just takes one swing of the bat for him to turn it around and that’s exactly what he’s done. So we’re happy that he’s hitting the ball and connecting with hard-hit balls.”

All through April, Judge was the most scrutinized hitter in the majors. Are his hands too high in his stance? Is he falling off with his swing too much? Why isn’t he obliterating mistakes?

There were valid questions about his health. Before spring training, Judge reiterated that his right big toe will require “constant maintenance” for the rest of his career after he tore a ligament running into the wall at Dodger Stadium last season. In March, he experienced enough abdominal pain to undergo testing, but no structural damage was discovered. He soon returned and was ready for the start of the season. He emphasized he was healthy, but conversations lingered even as he played every day.

All along, Boone said, Judge’s demeanor remained unchanged.

“You would never know if he has a series where he scuffles or a week where he scuffles or a week where he’s doing the things he is right now,” Boone said. “He’s really consistent in who he is and what he presents. I would say he’s the best I’ve ever seen at that.”

Ultimately, Judge pinned his frigid April on an inability to capitalize on mistakes. Too often he would foul off or swing through pitches he’s accustomed to hammering. He still took his walks and hit six home runs, but he wasn’t clicking. Rock bottom came April 20 when he struck out four times in four at-bats and heard boos from the home crowd.

That seems like a long time ago now. He leads the American League with 16 doubles. His 39 walks are the most in the majors. He’s tied for fourth with Shohei Ohtani with 13 home runs and is fifth in wRC+ (177).

Judge’s Baseball Savant page, a frosty blue through April, bleeds red again. He leads the majors in average exit velocity, barrel rate and hard-hit percentage. He has smashed a baseball 473 feet, the longest in the majors this season, at 115.7 mph and cracked another one 467 feet at 113 mph this month. He isn’t just doing damage, he’s bludgeoning pitches.

Soto has been everything the Yankees wanted. Giancarlo Stanton is so far rebounding strongly from a forgettable 2023 campaign. But nobody in the majors is inflicting more damage than Judge. He’s electrified an offense now pounding pitchers on a daily basis — by, like he says, not missing the ball.

“We’re just getting there,” Judge said.

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