Aaron Judge batting leadoff? At first, you might scoff at the idea and view it as nothing more than an attention-grabbing headline and perhaps it is a crazy thought, however, it might be more realistic than you think. New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters last week that he “…wouldn’t necessarily say it’s likely, but something that I would consider. I’ve thought about it.” That certainly is not a yes, but Boone did leave open the possibility of Judge batting leadoff at some point this season.
Thirty – maybe even twenty – years ago the idea of a player of Judge’s stature hitting first would have never been considered. The prototypical leadoff hitter has always been the small, speedy player who can wreak havoc on the base paths. Judge’s 6’7″ 282 lbs. frame does not quite fit this description. Neither does his 52 home runs and 114 RBI he put up in his rookie campaign. With that said, there is a lot about Judge’s game at the plate that could make him an ideal fit for the leadoff spot.
Ever since the beginning of the Moneyball era, teams have emphasized players who have innate ability to reach base. Last season, Judge reached base at one of the highest clips in all of baseball. His .422 OBP ranked third in MLB behind only Joey Votto and Mike Trout. Judge was the first rookie with a .420+ OBP since Minnie Minoso achieved the feat in 1951. Judge’s keen eye at-the-plate helped him finish among the leaders in OBP. He set a rookie record with 127 walks last season which ranked second in MLB last season to Joey Votto’s 134. No other Yankee that qualified for the batting title had an OBP above .352. The Yankees primary leadoff hitter Brett Gardner finished the season with a .350 OBP or .072 points lower than Judge’s.
Another way I can convince you that it isn’t an absurd idea to bat Judge leadoff is to look at his pitches per plate appearance. Every time I turned on the TV and Judge was up he seemed to be in a 3-2 count. It was quite impressive. He managed to reach that feat in 172 PAs or 25.3% of the time. That’s one every four PAs. Unsurprisingly, Judge ended up leading the AL averaging 4.41 pitchers per plate appearance. He’s also still only 25-years-old, and his plate discipline should get better with experience.
The majority of the people arguing that Judge should not bat in the leadoff spot will claim that it would end up hurting the Yankees because he will end up hitting more solo home runs and, accordingly, his RBI total will see a decrease. Maybe that’s true. But you also now have Stanton to drive in runners like Judge. I also would propose that the Yankees bat Gardner 9th, keeping him as a “second” leadoff hitter. This would help flip over the lineup and make sure that there are runners on base when Judge is up more often than not.
Aaron Judge is not your prototypical leadoff hitter, and that’s okay. Typical does not win you championships. Judge gets on-base at an exceptional rate, and his patience at the plate works in the leadoff spot. You don’t have to bat Judge first every game, but it could occasionally benefit the Yankees. Boone might be on to something, and you can’t become great without taking risks along the way.
(Photo Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)