Will the way pitchers approach Aaron Judge change when the postseason arrives? Of course. The New York Yankees star won’t be chasing No. 60, 61, 62 or more when Oct. 11 comes and the ALDS begins.
However, there is something to be said about Judge changing the complexion of this lineup when he’s setting the table in the leadoff spot. Once reserved for DJ LeMahieu, who earned his nickname “LeMachine” with his automatic production in that role, Judge has one-upped his teammate by instilling fear in the opposition.
Again, the fear won’t be as debilitating, but postseason baseball is different. Most pitchers don’t attack hitters in the same manner. At-bats are much more drawn out. And guess who’s used to long, drawn-out at-bats with the entire world watching? Any more brain busters?
Though there’s an argument to be had about ensuring Judge stands in the batter’s box with runners on, there’s an equally important one about giving your best hitter as many at-bats possible in the playoffs.
Not only that, but LeMahieu isn’t fully healthy. Is he someone you want to lock into the leadoff spot without question? Other than that, Anthony Rizzo might be the only other suitable option, but he’s used to split up the righties. So why not Judge?
Should the Yankees bat Aaron Judge leadoff when the postseason begins?
Judge has hit first in the lineup 28 times this season. He’s slashed .391/.492/.800 with 32 runs scored, 12 home runs, 24 RBI and 24 walks in those 132 plate appearances. Most of that has come in the month of September, where he’s slashed .415/.559/.878 with 26 runs scored, 10 homers, 17 RBI and 27 walks.
Digging deeper into the splits, Judge is dominant when swinging at the first pitch — he’s hitting .522 with a 1.579 OPS in 71 plate appearances. He’s also been overwhelmingly productive in hitters’ counts (1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1), and it’s reasonable to assume he’ll face more of those than anything if he’s the first batter a pitcher has to face to begin a game. If a pitcher dares to give him a fastball over the plate to kick off the festivities, they know the likely outcome.
Judge has now batted leadoff for 16 straight games, dating back to Sept. 10. The Yankees have averaged 6.75 runs per game over that span with an incomplete lineup and other ailing hitters. It obviously won’t sustain, but it’s smart to ride the hot hand and roll with the basis of a formula that’s been producing some of the best results all season.
Then you have the most basic evidence we can possibly lay bare — Judge leads the Yankees with a .313 batting average and .425 on-base percentage. Prototypical leadoff hitter. You don’t need any further stats to tell you that when the leadoff guy gets on, regardless of inning, it’s more favorable for the offense.
In the playoffs, traffic on the basepaths is the name of the game. If Judge can work opposing pitchers first and throw them off course to give the next few hitters a cleaner look, it could be among the many x-factors for the Yankees.
The key will be avoiding the offense going silent. Judge batting leadoff could be the antidote, regardless of who is in the lineup and who follows him.