Yankee Stadium effect on Aaron Judge home run chase

Aaron Judge has 60 home runs, a number that is part milestone (he’s just one away from tying the American League record, if you haven’t heard) and part legend (while 60 isn’t the single-season MLB record or even close to it, it’s a number that’s been burned into the hearts of baseball fans for generations). It’s a pretty big deal. Obviously.

He also plays in Yankee Stadium, a park with a well-known short porch in right, which makes it easier than anywhere else to get “cheapie” home runs, and you know where this is going. Aaron Judge is breaking home run marks? Must be the ballpark.

Allow us to disabuse you of this notion, for it is not true. What Judge is doing has quite a bit to do with Yankee Stadium.

1) Start here: Judge is slugging better on the road

We have all sorts of fancy numbers and pictures to get into. Let’s start with the absolute simplest one. While it’s true that Judge has slugged better at home than on the road over his career, that’s not the case in 2022 – or, you know, the season in which he’s hit 60 home runs. He’s splitting his home runs evenly, but overall, he’s hitting far better away from the Bronx.

Home
.312/.412/.677 – 1.089 OPS – 30 HR

Road
.317/.433/.713 – 1.147 OPS – 30 HR

Judge might have baseball’s best slugging percentage at home, but he’s also got baseball’s best slugging percentage on the road – by 113 points. Which, of course, undersells it. That .713 slugging is tied for the 8th-best season in the Wild Card era (min. 250 road plate appearances). It’s the best Yankees road slugging season since before World War II.

Or, maybe this is the best way to say it. Judge’s road home runs, all 30 of them, by themselves, without a single blast in home pinstripes … would be in the top 20 overall home run seasons this year. It’s as many as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Same for NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado. It’s only half of Judge’s season.

2) Yankee Stadium isn’t the home run you think it is

Despite the park’s reputation, if you were to head over to the Statcast park factors, you’d find something interesting: Yankee Stadium is one of a number of parks tied between 12th and 17th. It’s an average hitter’s park.

The reason for that is because it’s extremely difficult to get non-home run extra-base hits there; over the last three years, only one park has seen fewer doubles and triples, and this year, only four have. If that’s in part because some of those deep fly balls end up over the wall, that’s reflected in the numbers too; Yankee Stadium, for right-handed batters, has a 111 home run factor over the last three years, where 100 is the average. That’s a good place to hit a homer, but it’s hardly an outlier. It’s tied for 8th-best. It’s even lower just in 2022, a mere 15th.

Now: Let’s not pretend that the short porch doesn’t matter, because it certainly does. Yankee Stadium, this year, has seen 15 home runs that would not have been out of any other park, easily the most in baseball. (Minute Maid Park [9]Wrigley Field [5]and Dodger Stadium [5] are the only other parks with at least five.) That’s true over any time period you like; if you go back to 2016, that number is 90, a full 20 more than second-place Houston.

That’s been a big help to Anthony Rizzo, who has three of those shots. It’s been nice for DJ LeMahieu, who has one. Booth Judge? He doesn’t have any of those – and we can show you what happened with all of his.

3) Most of his home runs go out of most stadiums

Judge has 60 homers. Per Statcast numbers, which look at the trajectory of all of his long batted balls and give you an estimate of what he’d have if he played in a neutral park, his expected number is … 59.9. Or 60. (Compare that to Rizzo, who has 32 home runs, but has an expected number of 28.)

In fact, let’s break his 60 down into three groups.

53 of 60: Out in 20 or more parks.

These are the big boys, the one that very few parks would have held. Of the 53, there are 36 that would have been out of each park in the bigs. An additional 16 would have made it out of 25 to 29 parks. Overall, nearly 90% of all of Judge’s home runs would have been out of at least two-thirds of baseball’s parks. This is not what you’d get out of a home field that would turn fly balls into home runs.

But that just looks at the balls that reached the stands. Judge has actually hit two balls that would have been out of 25 or more parks that didn’t turn into home runs … and one of them was actually in Yankee Stadium.

That happened in April, when he hit a ball at 110.2 MPH, one that would have been out in 25 of the 30 stadiums … except that Enrique Hernández kept it in the park:

In May, he became one of the first victims of the new, deeper, taller left-field wall in Camden Yards. He might have ended up with a double off Spencer Watkins, but only because he was in Baltimore. It would have been a home run in 29 other parks – and, in every single year before 2022, in Camden too.

There are actually two more would-be homers that would have gone out of 21 parks (doubles in Minnesota and at home in New York) but wouldn’t have, or did not, leave the Bronx. Yankee Stadium isn’t really helping his home run total this year. It might even be hurting it.

Since we’ve already covered 53 of his home runs – plus four near-homers – there are only seven remaining. But even these have a story to tell.

4 of 60: Out in between 11 and 19 more parks.

Four times, Judge hit a home run that would have been out in roughly half the stadiums in the Majors. The trick, however, is this: Only one of them came in Yankee Stadium, that being his July 29 grand slam against Kansas City’s Jackson Kowar (out in 19/30 parks).

The other three came on the road – one apiece in Boston, Tampa Bay and Chicago – like this one in May against the White Sox (out in 16/30 parks).

3 of 60: Out in 10 or fewer parks

If you want to get to the “cheap ones,” they are these. The two Yankee Stadium-iest homers of his year came on July 30, when he visited the short porch against Kansas City (out in 3 of 30 parks), and on June 15, when he did the same thing against Tampa Bay (out in 5 of 30 parks). But one of them came on the road, too, when he hit his 51st homer of the season against the Angels in Anaheim.

All of which is to say: Of the seven home runs he has that weren’t clearly out of more than two-thirds of parks, four of those blasts didn’t even come at home. To go back to the Statcast numbers again, Judge would have been expected to hit 61 homers if he’d played all of his games at Yankee Stadium… as compared to 69 in Cincinnati or Colorado, or 65 in Milwaukee, or 64 in Texas. (Or a mere 48 in Detroit. Poor Tigers hitters.)

And that, really, is because Judge doesn’t hit wall-scrapers, as you’d expect from a batter who lives atop the hard-hit leaderboards; on fly balls, his average distance of 349 feet is tied for the most in baseball.

If it feels like most of his blasts clear the fence with quite a bit of room to spare…well, they do. See for yourself:

We looked up the 68 hitters with at least 20 home runs, and checked to find by how much, on average, their home runs cleared the fence. That Judge is merely second, not first, tells you a little about how strong CJ Cron is, and a Lot about what it’s like to play at Coors Field.

Highest average distance beyond fence on home runs (min. 20 HRs)

52 feet – CJ Cron (a Rockie)
46 feet – Aaron Judge
45 feet – Christian Walker
45 feet – Byron Buxton
44 feet – Isaac Paredes
44 feet – Joc Pederson
44 feet – Anthony Santander

Judge, it seems, has been stuck on 60 home runs for quite some time. If it happens in the finale of this series in Toronto, it would be almost appropriate. Nine of his last 12 home runs have come on the road. He’s slugged better on the road. He might play in a somewhat friendly home park for home runs, a situation he’s taken advantage of in the past. But that’s not what’s happening this year.

As Judge continues to chase down team and league records, it’s not because of his park. It’s because he’s hitting baseballs just about as well as anyone ever has.

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