Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Boone Loves Being “Witness” To Judge’s “Growth and his evolution as a professional”


Aaron Judge at the plate in the first inning on Wednesday night. Photo by Jason Schott.

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is putting together a season that is on pace to match, if not exceed, his record-setting year in 2022.

On Wednesday, Judge received honors as American League Player of the Month for June - the second straight month he has won the award, and the eighth time in his career. 

In June, Judge hit .409, with 11 home runs and 37 RBI, plus an unbelievable .514 on-base percentage. This came after a May in which he hit .361 with a .479 OBP. 

For the season, through Tuesday night, Judge is hitting .321 with 32 home runs and 83 RBI, and he has played in 85 of the Yankees’ 87 games.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone was asked, in his pregame press conference on Wednesday, what he sees about Judge that’s different from 2022 and now, and he said, “(Yankees VP of Communications Jason) Zillo and I have talked about this a lot, because everyone that comes in here, if we have a national game or whatever, you know, talks about, ‘is he so much better now?’, and it’s like, in 2022, he won the MVP, hit 62 homers, like, is he really that much better? Maybe, maybe, you know, maybe he’s benefiting from another level of experience, and really in tune with what exactly he needs to do every day to go out there and be really successful, the kind of run that he’s been on, the extended run he’s been on, the length of that run at this level of production is - maybe it is a notch above, I don’t know.

“I just know it’s a lot of fun to witness, but it’s a lot of fun to witness him, kind of over these last, you know, for me being with him - this is my seventh year with him, seeing his growth and his evolution as a professional, as a player, understanding exactly what he has to do night in and night out to go out there and perform the way he does. Is it better? Maybe. 

“I know he is always working on being the best, and being better, never being really satisfied, while also having that really good perspective of understanding how hard this game is, you know, there’s going to be peaks and valleys. There’s gonna be struggles, there’s gonna be weeks you’re not swinging great. You know, it’s why you saw him handle, like, all the questions in April where he was off to a slow start, like, he doesn’t really flinch at all, he’s real confident, he knows that it’s hard, too, and that you’re going to take your lumps at times. Just that realization and understanding of where he is in his career, I guess he’s just a more complete, mature product, and is that a tick better? Maybe.”

One notable, and very important, difference between then and now is that Judge officially became the Yankees Captain in December 2022, after he signed a nine-year contract all but assuring he would play his whole career in pinstripes.

Boone was then asked about Judge’s leadership qualities, and he said, “I think that’s another area where he’s just continued to go to another level, in his leadership. Obviously, being named Captain last year, at the start of the year, not that it necessarily changed him because he was the leader in that room before that, the face in the room before that, the guy that everyone looked to before that, but I think taking that title, like he takes that serious, and for him, that’s being accountable to everyone in that room and being invested in everyone in that room, so, but I have seen him, you know, over the last several years constantly evolve into being more and more of a strong, outstanding leader, and certainly worthy of that seat.”

Aaron Judge in the on-deck circle waiting to hit on Wednesday night. Photo by Jason Schott.

A big difference in the Yankee lineup that has also helped Judge, as he is routinely hitting third behind Juan Soto, with Boone saying an obvious benefit is that, "It's helped his RBI total, with as much as Juan's on base." 

While Judge already has 83 RBI this season, putting him on pace for somewhere between 150-160, he had 131 RBI in 2022, which in relation to his 62 home runs, was just over a 2-1 RBI-HR ratio, when he was primarily hitting leadoff. With this season's pace, that RBI-HR ratio is more 3-1.

"Obviously, they're two of the greats in the game, so on some level, they can relate to one another, but they're also left, right-handed, get attacked differently, almost every guy they're facing, you know, whether there's a left-hander on the mound, a righty on the mound, you know, it's a very different at-bat, but I think you'd be foolish to say they haven't benefited at least a little bit from being next to one another."

Boone was then asked how it all comes together from a psychological standpoint for Judge, and he said, "I think his confidence is immense, but with that confidence comes the perspective of - he's got a tremendous perspective on how difficult this game is, and what you go through, especially as an offensive player throughout the course of a year, like,  if he continues this and goes on to win the MVP, and you know, still when you look up, you make a lot of outs. You know, there's weeks where you struggle and it's hard, and he's got a really good perspective on whether he has just won another Player of the Month award or whether he's going through a 10-day streak where, 'ah, I don't feel as great, I'm not swinging quite as great,' that happens to even him, too. His perspective is how you draw it up, how you want guys to deal with - we talk about the grind of a season, that's real. This thing is a gauntlet, and it'll bring you to your knees if you let it. He handles that stuff so well, and I think, in the end, at his core, it's about winning, he wants to win. If we're winning, and doing a belt ceremony at the end of the night, shaking hands, like, all good, like, whatever roll he played in it; usually, obviously, he's got a big hand in it, but that's what the goal is, and I think, when that's your focus and your goal, it helps simplify things when you get between the lines."

On if Judge could face a Barry Bonds-like treatment, where teams elect to pitch around him going forward, Boone forthrightly said, "I mean, the Bonds treatment might be too extreme, just in today's game, but I think you're going to see at different times, different points of the game, if the situation calls for it, you'll see it."

When then told it hasnt' happened a lot before, Boone said, "Not a ton. We saw it start to happen back end of '22 a lot; now part of that was, you know, we were still getting guys back, and getting healthy, and beat up, he was leading off, and just because we're kind of waiting on some guys to get back, and a little, you know, dismantled in our lineup, but, yeah, there'll be stretches where that probably happens, or situations that arise and present themselves more often than maybe they do over a different two-week period, so I'm sure it'll happen a little bit."

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