The Big Friendly Giant

Aaron Judge is 6-foot-7, he’s approaching 300 pounds, and he just hit the hardest home run at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast™ Era. These are some scary times for the vast array of fans around baseball who loathe the Yankees.

Judge, dubbed “The Big Friendly Giant” by my PosCast partner Michael Schur, is (I think) the biggest every day player in baseball history. I suppose it depends how you judge such things. The biggest player, when you factor height, weight and the time when they played, might have been Frank Howard, a magnificent home run hitter in the 1960s. Howard was 6-foot-7, 255 or so pounds, and he hit 172 home runs between 1967 and 1970.

Those were light-hitting times, as you know, and Howard’s 172 homers over those four years were by far the most in baseball, well ahead of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Henry Aaron and Carl Yastrzemski, who were the next four on the list. With better timing, Frank Howard could very well be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Adam Dunn was 6-foot-6, 285, you could argue he was the biggest player before now. Dunn was the ultimate three-outcome player — strikeout, walk or home run. His 2,379 career strikeouts places him third on the list. His 1,317 walks puts him in the Top 50 all-time, and he twice led the league in walks. And his 462 career home runs is 35th all-time, sandwiched between Dave Winfield and Yaz.

After those two you have a lot of mammoth players who just didn’t quite get there, like Calvin Pickering (6-foot-5, 280-something), Kyle Blanks (6-foot-6, 260-something), and a guy named Walter Young who was briefly up for the Orioles in 2005 and who weighed in at 6-foot-5, 300-plus.

But Judge is really something kind of new. He was a high school football player (an unstoppable tight end and wide receiver) who loved baseball. Scouts appreciated his raw power (80 on a scale of 20–80 according to Baseball America), but they were not sure someone that big could make enough contact to be a successful big league hitter. He was a 30th round pick out of high school.

He passed on that and went to California State University Fresno, where he mashed a few home runs, enough home runs that the Yankees took a shot at him late in the first round of the 2013 draft.

And, from the start, Judge showed that he’s a different kind of giant. He hit .300 his first year. He showed a striking ability to not only pull the ball ferociously but also to hit the ball the other way. Yes, he does have a hole in his swing that makes him somewhat susceptible to strikeouts — it’s hard to imagine a 6-foot-7 hitter without a hole in his swing — but in the era of the strikeout he doesn’t stand out at all. He has shown patience at the plate.

And when he hits it, man, it stays hit.

Like this:

Or this:

This works too. This one REALLY works:

And these are the Statcast™ particulars of last night’s bomb.

The Yankees are overloaded with young talent, both at the Major and minor-league level, and so it’s hard to say who will be the star of the New York tabloid back pages for the next decade. But Aaron Judge is my bet, not only because he figures to hit many 450-foot home runs but because “Judge” is way too tempting a name for back page headline writers to avoid.


Talking bunts with Tango and Bill

Our weekly conversation with Tom Tango and Bill James revolves around bunts, particularly sacrifice bunts.

Me: So I was hoping to put together a little list — a “Questions you should ask” list — when deciding whether or not to a bunt.

Bill: It is well known (now) that the math basically never favors giving up an out. But if you phrase the question, “If you bunt for a hit and get a sacrifice as a fallback, what does the batter have to hit in order for the bunt to be a good play?” then the answer is something in the .150-.200 range.

Me: It is interesting that so few see it like this. I just had Smart Baseball author Keith Law on the PosCast, and we were both speculating that if you gave managers the option to cancel the at-bat and just take an out while moving up the runner(s), the vast, vast majority would take it. I think that specific playing — an out for a base — is almost always a bad play. But, yes, if you can just occasionally get a hit out of your bunt attempts or create an error, the percentages change considerably.

Bill: In my view the №1 consideration for when a batter should bunt is the third baseman’s ability to field a bunt. I think it’s the largest variable in there. Some third basemen just do not field bunts well. The percentage probability that he will mishandle the bunt and/or throw the ball away is very meaningful to the overall math of the situation.

Tango: Tango: Mitchel (Lichtman) has a very extensive set of considerations in The Book. It’s 50 pages, and I wouldn’t cut a page out. But the basic point is this: If the fielder is playing too far back, you should bunt 100% of the time. If he’s playing too far in, you should bunt 0% of the time.

Me: This leads to another point: Bunting against the shift.

Bill: I continue to believe that, when the third baseman abandons third base in a shift, that the batter HAS to take advantage of that.

Tango: Let’s ask it this way: Should Miguel Cabrera bunt? Well, what if Manny Machado is playing on the grass in the outfield? What if he’s playing in short left field? There’s a “line” where the win expectancy will be identical whether Cabrera bunts or swings away. Whenever Machado plays at that line, you could say that Cabrera is indifferent.

Since Cabrera never bunts, one would conclude that all third basemen are playing him too much in. Or, they are playing him perfectly in which case, since Cabrera is indifferent, he’s just choosing to never bunt.


Statcast™ thought of the day

The Red Sox, for some reason, couldn’t do a thing against Toronto’s Francisco Liriano and three relievers on Wednesday, but they at least saw some improvement from last year’s Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. He was coming off of consecutive starts where batters teed off on him; opposing hitters had 12 hits with exit velocities of more than 95-mph in those two starts. That’s a lot of hard-hit balls, more than Porcello had for any two starts in 2016.

The question remains: Why? Porcello’s velocity is just where it was last year. His command might be a bit off. He might not be sequencing his pitches as well. And it might be something else entirely.

Anyway, Porcello was better on Wednesday. He gave up four hits of 95-mph or more but all four were ground ball singles. In fact, he did not give up a hit in the air for seven innings. Better signs.

For more Statcast™ thoughts, I wrote a little something about Lorenzo Cain and a new metric: Sprint Speed.

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