Can you Judge young slugger by exit velocity?

Can you Judge young slugger by exit velocity?

Statcast™ is changing the way we watch baseball, and we're only beginning to figure out how it will revolutionize the game. Mike Petriello, Matt Meyers and special guests discuss what this groundbreaking technology is teaching us.

In this week's episode, the guys lock in on Aaron Judge, whose amazing exit velocities haven't always netted the results you might expect.

Mike Petriello: [On Wednesday,] Matt and I were in attendance in the Bronx to watch the Yankees and the Rays, and Aaron Judge destroyed a baseball -- just crushed it to dead center field above the batter's eye. And I don't know if you saw exactly where that ball was when he hit it -- he didn't even get to extend his arms, did you realize that? He had to kind of short-arm it, and he still crushed it, what was it, 437 feet to dead center? Unbelievable.

Matt Meyers: It was like an inside-out forehand crushed out to Monument Park, and it wasn't even the hardest-hit ball he had in the game.

Judge's two-run homer

Petriello: No, it wasn't. Earlier in the game, he had a 116.5-mph single that I believe almost took Jumbo Diaz's head off when it went right past him.

Meyers: I was impressed that Jumbo Diaz was quick enough to get out of the way of that. It was absolutely smoked.

Petriello: We're only talking about 29 plate appearances worth of Aaron Judge so far, but he already has five of the 12 hardest-hit balls of the year. We've learned over the first couple of years of Statcast™ that exit velocity, it's not the end-all, be-all, but it's absolutely a skill. It's a skill Giancarlo Stanton has; it's a skill Billy Hamilton doesn't have. And it's pretty clear that it's a skill Aaron Judge has, right? This is what he does, and this is what we're seeing.

Meyers: He's like the first legitimate competition we're seeing for Giancarlo Stanton in terms of pure exit velocity.

Petriello: So I said he had five of the 12 hardest-hit balls of the year. Here's what's interesting, though. If you look at these, two of them are singles, one's a groundout, one's a grounded-into-double-play, and the other one's a fielder's-choice out. It's not like he's got five dingers on these five crushed balls. Actually none of them have been dingers. And I think we learned a little bit about this last year with Giancarlo Stanton at the Home Run Derby, where there is actually too much exit velocity, because you don't get enough loft on the ball. I'm looking at this list here of the 12 hardest-hit balls of the year -- only three of them have been home runs. Which, it's not really what you'd think.

Meyers: Yeah, because to hit the ball as hard as you possibly can, you want to get it flush on the barrel, but that means you're basically gonna get no uppercut. The hardest-hit ball in the Statcast™ Era, 123-plus mph, was a grounded-into-double-play. By Stanton, of course.

Statcast: Stanton's hot grounder

Petriello: The hardest-hit ball so far this year, 118.1 mph by Eric Hosmer, was a groundout. And that's kind of been the Eric Hosmer story a little bit, too -- we know he can hit the ball hard, but it's on the ground. We've been kind of talking about this a lot, like, elevate the ball. What I'm really -- I'm kind of sidetracking this from Aaron Judge for a second, I've noticed -- I'm really excited about Ryan Zimmerman right now. We talked about how he had a Top 10 exit velocity last year and was just generally atrocious. And Daniel Murphy spent all winter talking about how he was gonna teach him to elevate -- Ryan Zimmerman's crushing the ball right now. So that's a guy to watch.

I took us off the Aaron Judge track. But if you look at Aaron Judge: he's cut his strikeouts in half -- again, 29 plate appearances, I know, nothing matters. Where are you on him? Are you buying him?

Meyers: I have always been a bit of an Aaron Judge skeptic. He always struck out a lot in the Minors. And usually strikeout rates in the Minors, because the pitchers aren't as good -- if you strike out at an already somewhat unsustainable rate in the Minors and then do it again in your first cup of coffee in the Majors, to me it's a huge red flag. It's part of why I've never really bought into Joey Gallo either. So I've always been pretty skeptical of Aaron Judge for that reason.

Plus, the track record of 6-foot-7 and taller hitters in Major League history -- admittedly, it's a pretty narrow group, but it's also not a very good one. Players that tall just generally have not succeeded as hitters, for kind of the same reason: it's hard to keep a short swing. There are holes in his swing that can be exploited. So I've always been incredibly skeptical.

The strikeout rate -- strikeout rates generally stabilize a little quicker, so it's too early to say if this is the new Aaron Judge. But this is impressive -- just the amount of quality contact he's making when he's making contact.

Petriello: The other thing about players that large is they have a hard time staying healthy. We've seen this with Stanton over the last couple of years -- a lot of lower-body injuries. There have been very few guys who have been able to last, you know, 10 full years in the big leagues. I don't know if Aaron Judge is gonna be a superstar -- I'm taking the "under" on the .379 OBP he's got right now, I'm taking the under on the .692 slugging he's got right now -- but I don't if he has to be a superstar for me to find him fascinating. He's the closest thing we have to Giancarlo Stanton. Which I feel terrible saying -- the guy's 29 plate appearances into his season -- but it's kind of true.