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Aaron Judge is the Biggest 2-Hole Hitter Ever

Aaron Judge is 6’7” and 282 pounds. He looks like an old-fashioned prototypical cleanup hitter. Let the guys in front of him get on base and let the big guy drive them in. He has the power numbers to go along with the eye test; Judge belted 52 homers and had 114 RBI in the regular season.

Judge is not the Yankees’ cleanup hitter though. He sits in the 2-hole and is probably the biggest player ever to regularly bat second in the lineup. Granted, Joe Girardi has moved the Rookie of the Year candidate up and down throughout the season, but Judge seems to have settled into his role after struggling the two months following the All-Star Game in Miami.

Aaron Judge 2-hole hitter

Aaron Judge has solidified the 2-hole for the Yankees

Looking at where Judge has hit in the lineup this season, the only place he has not been used is the leadoff spot. Perhaps if Joe Maddon were his manager, Judge would have been a leadoff hitter at some point like Anthony Rizzo was.

The idea of a player like Judge hitting second might be questionable to casual fans or baseball traditionalists. The perceived notion of a lineup used to be: a fast runner leads off, high contact/bunt hits second, best hitter bats third, most power hits fourth. With data analysis and statistics taking over baseball the last decade, those old clichés no longer hold their own weight, at least at the professional level.

Managers strive to create the best possible lineup based on matchups and past performance. Past performance cannot predict the success a player will have that day, but it gives the team the best chance to win according to the manager. Judge batted eighth on Opening Day this season, and in six games total. He batted seventh six times, sixth 12 times, fifth 30 times, fourth nine times, third 63 times, and second 28 times.

His movement up and down the lineup was based on Judge’s status as a rookie (84 MLB at-bats in 2016), his emergence as an above average hitter (30 HR, .329 AVG pre All-Star), his two-month slump (10 HR, .206 AVG in July/August), and the resurgence at the end of the year (15 HR, .311 in September). While Judge may certainly fill into a 3 or 4-hole hitter over the next few years, Girardi has the Fresno State alum placed comfortably in the 2-hole.

Body type does not dictate the batting order like it used to. If Aaron Judge is at one end of the player size scale, Jose Altuve is at the opposite end. Altuve is 5’6” and 156 pounds and has been the Astros’ 3-hole hitter for over 100 games this season not including the playoffs.

Lineups have been changing more than ever, with authors like Brian Kenny (Ahead of the Curve), Ben Lindbergh (The Only Rule is it Has to Work), Tim Kurkijan (I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies), and Keith Law (Smart Baseball) advocating for optimization through statistical analysis. Leadoff hitters do not have to be fast. Batting average is not indicative of a good hitter. RBI totals are misleading. These are some of the many conclusions drawn from the books mentioned.

Aaron Judge 2-hole hitter

Who looks like a 2-hole hitter and who looks like a 3-hole hitter?

What does all of this mean? It means Aaron Judge is a good enough player to be in the top of the order and a player you want to get as many at-bats as possible. If the Yankees are down to their last three outs and the 9-1-2 hitters are due up, that means Judge gets one more at-bat. If he is hitting in the cleanup position, he must hope for two men to reach base. Granted, he would be hitting with runners on base, but the guaranteed at-bat is a better opportunity than an at-bat that might not happen at all.

With a .284 season batting average and a team leading .422 OBP, Judge also has the ability to reach base at a high percentage. This means the team gets a base runner earlier in the lineup to provide more run scoring opportunities. Again, it does not matter how big or small the player is. It matters about what he does performance wise. Many times you will see a “Player A” vs. “Player B” comparison with only statistics given. Judge might be a giveaway with his 52 home runs, but his stats are indicative of someone you want on base as early and often as possible. He is not home run or bust type of player like Adam Dunn or Chris Davis.

Valuing a hitter’s worth

There is any number of ways to value a player’s worth. Some give more weight to certain statistics over others. No matter what stats are used or calculated, the end result is to score runs – as many as possible. Judge may have had a slump in the ALDS, but a manager’s ability to (surprise…) manage his players also comes into play. Girardi isn’t likely to move Aaron Judge to the lower half of the lineup because there isn’t enough time to work his way out of a slump. He has proven himself over the course of the season and has earned his spot in the lineup. Player morale and team chemistry is the last thing a manager needs to deal with in the post season.

A lineup with Judge in the 2-hole only limits his RBI chances in the first inning. After that, it is anyone’s guess how a game will progress. I think he will end up as a 3-hole hitter next year if his average continues to stay closer towards .300. He may lose a few at-bats over the course of a season, but it would give him a few more at-bats with extra runners on base as well. That is a trade-off you hope pays off in the long run or in any particular game.

Of course, if he were playing for the Astros, big Aaron Judge would be protected in the lineup by little Jose Altuve.

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