Aaron Judge came into the 2017 season with many questions to how he’d bounce back from an underwhelming 27 games he played in 2016 and improve his mechanics to become a better ball-player. Well he did that with flying colors, playing MVP caliber baseball and providing some of the biggest moments of the 2017 season. Here’s my top 5 favorite moments of Aaron Judge. Note: winning AL ROY will not be included, only regular season moments will be.
5. Diving Catch vs. Rays on 5/21/17
One word described this moment when it occurred live: Wow! This came in the 6th inning of a 3-2 game at Tropicana Field, robbing Evan Longoria of extra bases and doubling-off the Corey Dickerson who was at 1st and was ready to score easily. According to Statcast who rated it a 4-star catch, he had to run 79 feet in 4.6 to catch it (sprint speed of 28.5 feet per second), and had a 26% catch probability. Watching it live, he had a nice, brisk jump to the ball and the dive looked so crisp. It makes the list at #5 not only because of how unlikely that catch was, but that it was significant to the game at hand and was the highlight of some of the defensive plays he made throughout the season, showing that he can change games with his glove too.
4. Go-ahead homer vs. Angels on 6/12/17
This is an underrated moment that probably non-yankee fans would’ve easily forgotten. But as a Yankees fan, I think this was worthy of a spot on this list. The Angels scored 2 off pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and Tyler Clippard not to mention some sloppy defense behind him the inning before, tying the game before entering the top of the eighth. Following a 1-out double from Aaron Hicks, just stepped up to the plate and launched an opposite field, 438 ft., 2-run go-ahead homer off Bud Norris. This homer was his 4th in 3 days with 2 coming the day before (we’ll come back to this). At this time he was arguably at his highest point of the season and was just destroying baseballs. Some before this game doubted Judge’s ability to make something happen in the big moment and this home run shut some of those people. This clutch homer was followed by chants of “MVP” at Angel Stadium, where Mike Trout has been a fixture of that Angels team so it was cool to see that a new kid was getting similar respect to that of arguably the best player in the game today. Essentially, this was mine and most likely others first time we truly believed that Aaron Judge was on his way to a MVP caliber season.
3. Two-homer game highlighted by 496 bomb vs Orioles on 6/11/17
The Yankees had just won the first two games in a 3-game series against the O’s at home, looking to get a sweep before going on the road. In the 6th inning, Judge stepped up to the plate against Logan Verrett. Then he unleashed on a ball, hitting it 496 ft. to left-center field, which the longest home run in the Statcast era and got a huge reaction from the players and fans present. He became the first Yankee 25 years old or younger since Roger Maris in 1960 to hit 20 dingers before the All-Star break. He followed that monster shot the next inning with a 401 foot opposite-field homer that was the last of the 14 runs they scored that game and ultimately ended the game with 4 hits. Not only did hitting the longest homer in the Statcast era important to any future data surrounding home run distance, but it showcased the immense power he had and got his name mentioned highly of throughout the MLB community.
2. Winning the Home Run Derby
Understandably, Judge was chosen to take part in the Home Run Derby after hitting 30 homers in the 1st half of the season, entering as the #2 seed. In the first round, he faced off against Miami Marlins 1B Justin Bour who went on to hit 22 home runs! Although people knew what kind of power Judge had, 23 home runs just seemed hard to do even for him. But once again he proved doubters wrong and ended up hitting 23 to advance to the next round. He went on to win the whole thing, needing 13 to beat Cody Bellinger and 11 to beat Miguel Sano in the final round. The national media covered this derby to no end, hyping it up to be one of the best in recent memory and it pulled through with Judge winning it. This was a spectacle of epic proportions and at the center of it was Aaron Judge, who was well on his way to getting all kinds of attention for his accomplishments.
1. Breaking the Rookie Home Run Record on 9/25/17
I think it’s fair for people to argue that winning the home run derby was Judge’s biggest moment as it was basically a showcase of his arrival and possibly the new face of baseball, but breaking McGuire’s rookie home run record was the defining moment of his rookie campaign in my eyes. He hit his 49th homer to tie the record and his 50th to officially break the record. Amidst a playoff race, Judge was having a phenomenal month which was a big help in getting the top wild card but Judge had his moment in this game. This is when he concluded a successful rookie season and cemented his name in the history books.
Honorable Mentions: Diving catch into the seat against the Red Sox on his Birthday, throws out runner going to 3rd against the Blue Jays, completes bases-loaded double play by throwing out runner tagging from 3B, hitting his 30th homer before the end of the 1st half, being elected to his 1st All-star game