Aaron Judge’s ability to be ‘on time’ a key to his incredible season

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Aaron Judge is always “on time.” 

What does that mean?

No, this is not a story about Judge’s workplace punctuality, though he seems like the type of friend who shows up to places when he’s supposed to.

With the Yankees‘ generational slugger set to break Roger Maris’ American League single-season home record any day now, there has been a lot of chatter about what exactly has compelled him to have such a fantastic season. 

There was no swing change, no easy change-of-scenery narrative; he’s simply a better version of himself than he has ever been. But many smart hitting minds around baseball think that Judge’s ability to consistently be on time has been the single biggest force driving his magnificent 2022 campaign.

On Tuesday, ahead of New York’s recent series against Pittsburgh, Pirates hitting coach Andy Haines noted, unprompted, how he was in awe of Judge’s ability to be on time. 

Red Sox manager Alex Cora, when asked before Thursday’s game what might be enabling Judge’s MVP-worthy season, immediately noted how on-time the Yankees slugger always seems to look. 

And Dillon Lawson, the Yankees’ hitting coach, used that exact same phrase multiple times in an interview about Judge earlier this season.

So what does being “on time” actually mean? And why is Judge so skilled at it?

For Lawson, it’s pretty straightforward.

“He recognizes pitches,” he explained. “And he’s better at it than everyone else in the world.”

According to Lawson, Judge being on time is about more than being mentally ready whenever he steps in the box. Judge’s biggest separating skill — besides his immense size and strength — is his innate ability to read and react to pitches earlier and more often than any other hitter in baseball.

That’s what being on time really means: The earlier Judge knows what pitch is coming and where it’s going, the more likely he is to get his best swing off, and the more often he can do that, the more opportunities he’ll have to seriously impact the baseball.

And right now, in the midst of this prodigious hot streak, Judge is basically always on time.

“Manny always talked about being on time,” Cora shared. “He said that if you’re on time, you’re gonna recognize pitches, and you’re gonna make good decisions. And right now, Judge’s swing decisions are elite.”

Yankees’ Aaron Judge was THIS close to tying Roger Maris’ AL HR record

Aaron Judge was just a few feet away from his 61st homer of the season and winning the game for the New York Yankees in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday against the Boston Red Sox.

“Swing decisions” is a relatively modern, catch-all term to describe what types of pitches hitters choose to swing at and how they choose to swing at them. Not every hack is created equal. 

Here’s an example. The game’s best contact hitters, guys such as Cleveland‘s Steven Kwan and Minnesota‘s Luis Arraez, generally have outstanding bat control. They can manipulate the barrel extremely late in the timeline of their swings in order to adapt accordingly to the incoming pitch. 

Kwan’s and Arraez’s ability to adjust late, while impressive and fun as hell to watch, is less impactful than Judge’s ability to recognize early. Kwan and Arraez can make contact but — also due in part to their relatively diminutive frames — don’t have enough time within the milliseconds of the ball whizzing toward the plate to get a huge swing off. 

Got it, kids? Recognition early > adjustability late.

But what’s different about Judge this season compared to years past? If being “on time” is something difficult to learn and develop, how has Judge mashed 60 home runs? 

One theory has to do with a slight change in Judge’s load that enables him to better take advantage of his elite recognition skills. Most hitters have some type of negative move pre-pitch, in which their hands and shoulders shift backward, loading the scap muscle. When timed correctly, that creates a rubber-band effect that springs tons of energy forward toward the ball.

Judge seems to have simplified that aspect of his swing, essentially preloading his hands earlier than other hitters. That allows him to focus solely on moving forward while the ball is in the air. And because he’s uniquely adept at reading and reacting, he can get his barrel and, in turn, his massive power to do damage on so many types of pitches.

While the sporting public impatiently awaits home runs Nos. 61 and 62, Judge has stayed true to his approach. On Thursday in New York’s 5-4 walk-off win over Boston, Judge walked three times, as Red Sox pitching gave him precious little to hit. 

But sooner or later, the perfect pitch to rip that milestone blast will come, and when it does, best be sure that Aaron Judge will be on time.

Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ, is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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