Judge is Having His Miguel Cabrera Moment: Appreciate It!!

Aaron Judge has been on a hitting tear. In the past eight games, he’s hit seven home runs in 39 plate appearances while accumulating 37 total bases. The New York Yankees have seen the best from their best hitter who slashed a mind-boggling .452/.564/1.194 to help the team take seven of their last nine games.

Aaron Judge is Having His Miguel Cabrera Moment

At this point, it’s par for the course for Judge. He’s hitting at a high level and after winning the American League MVP last year and he once again looks like the best hitter in baseball. Along with the 13 home runs, Judge is slugging over .600 for the second year in a row and is both crushing the ball as well as putting it in play. In the recent game against the Cincinnati Reds on May 20th, he didn’t hit a home run but a four-hit performance helped propel the Yankees to a 7-4 win en route to a weekend sweep.

After years of showing promise and flashes, Judge is hitting his stride. Everything is clicking for the powerful yet poised 31-year-old who has perfected his hitting tools to make him elite. Judge waits for the right pitches to crush and if it’s not there, he either slices the ball for a base hit or takes the walk that’s given to him. It’s making him an MVP candidate again but also someone who is entering elite power-hitting territory.

Judge in a lot of ways, is like how Miguel Cabrera was in the past decade (wow, it’s been a decade since Cabrera hit the triple crown and was an MVP, that will make you feel old). The Detroit Tigers‘ former star was always elite but when he honed his craft, he became a Hall of Famer. From 2011-13, he was the best hitter in baseball and carried a batting order with a dominant presence. Judge is mirroring that plate dominance and it’s something that Yankees fans and baseball fans as a whole can relish.

How Both Sluggers Became the Best in Baseball

Since joining the Florida Marlins in 2003, Cabrera was always a valuable power hitter. He played in a city and baseball market that made him invisible and the team struggling failed to highlight his brilliance but the great power was always there. Cabrera could swing for the fences and he did early in his career, hitting 30 home runs or more and slugging .500 or more in four of his five years in Florida. The other tools needed improvement.

Cabrera was a more active swinger at the plate. His batting average was always good if not great but he would often chase out of the zone. Moreover, he didn’t want to take the free base and his on-base percentage was only above .400 twice in his first seven years in baseball.

When Cabrera was traded to the Tigers, everything changed. Not only was he on a competitive team for the first time since his rookie year, but he started to get support in the lineup, allowing him to change his plate approach. He started waiting for his pitches and could send the ball to the opposite field to put him on the bases. Likewise, walking him was consequential for opponents, especially by 2012 when Prince Fielder would be waiting behind him in the lineup. Walking Cabrera was a bad idea. Putting him on with Fielder in the four-spot in the lineup was a disaster for opponents. Along with the plate adjustments, it made him the best hitter in baseball.

Judge had a different start to his career in part because he was thrown into the fire in New York. When he stepped up to the plate in his young years, he was seen as a physically gifted player and the expectations were high from the start. The Yankees haven’t had a star in the lineup for years and the pressure was for him to become that as a right-handed bat who would send moonshots to the seats. In his rookie season, he lived up to the hype, hitting a record 52 homers in his first year to help the Yankees reached the American League Championship Series.

Then came the issues for Judge. He battled injuries and struggled to make contact. While he was willing to take pitches and work the count, the outside pitches that were strikes would be a weakness. Pitchers would avoid the lower inside quadrant of the strike zone and instead try to make him chase an outside pitch or take it for a strike. It made Judge a one-tool hitter, a powerful bat but not one that could make contact when needed.

In 2022, it all clicked for Judge. He perfected his plate discipline and was willing to take the walks, finishing the year with a league-leading 111 walks. The outside strikes however are where he showed his most improvement. Not only would he punch the ball to right field for hits but he could power the ball to the opposite field for home runs. By the end of the season, he slashed .311/.425/.686 and almost became the first player to win the triple crown since Cabrera in 2012. His 62 home runs are what will be remembered most from the year as he surpassed Roger Maris and set the American League record. Now, he’s building off that big year.

Judge & Cabrera’s Primes Compared

It might be a hot take to compare Judge who is entering his hitting prime to Cabrera, one of the greatest right-handed hitters in the history of baseball. Cabrera is a shell of himself at 40 years old but in his prime, he was the best hitter in the league and it wasn’t particularly close. So, let’s compare the prime years of the two to see how close (or far) Judge really is from the star of the past era.

Cabrera’s Stats From 2012-13: .281/.340/.609 slash line, 118 home runs, 177 OPS+, and 1065 total bases. 

Judge’s Stats From 2021-23: .299/.400/.619 slash line, 114 home runs, 180 OPS+, and 778 total bases.

What’s clear from both stat lines above is that both Judge and Cabrera not only were in their prime years but thriving in every facet that is desired from the hitter. What makes this stretch more impressive for Judge is that he’s matching Cabrera, especially in the home run category, despite only playing 38 games this year (the 2023 season is barely underway).

Cabrera had one of the greatest primes for a hitter and Judge is on pace to not only match it but eclipse it as well. Judge has yet to hit a wall and by the end of the year, it’s possible to look back at a memorable stretch. When the Tigers were a contender they had Cabrera carrying them in the heart of the lineup. Similarly, the Yankees have a star that can and in recent years has carried them.

Judge’s Impact on the Yankees

Last year, Judge sealed the MVP award in August. It wasn’t the month that he was best but it was the one where baseball fans noticed his value. The Yankees were treading water throughout the month and playing awful baseball. The lineup was hapless and reeling from injuries. Yet, Judge kept hitting and carrying the team, keeping them in first place in the division.

Judge was in the heart of the lineup and not only a reliable player to get on base but added the much-needed power to an otherwise hapless lineup. The Yankees would win a game 2-1 or 3-2 with Judge hitting a home run or creating a few runs to make the difference. Then he moved to the top of the lineup and it changed everything. He was given more plate appearances and with the rest of the lineup struggling, he was both the run source and the table setter. His 11 homers in September allowed him to secure the home run record and helped the Yankees clinch the division.

Recently, Judge returned to the lineup and his presence had a ripple effect. He allows Anthony Rizzo to bat with a runner on base. He makes Gleyber Torres a strong bat in the back half of the batting order and not in the heart of the lineup. He keeps the line moving and more importantly, drives in runs even if everyone else is struggling. The Yankees hot streak has coincided with Judge’s return and he makes the team go from a .500 club to a World Series contender.

Yankees Fans Must Relish In Judge’s Prime

Cabrera’s decline was shocking and unprecedented. It took the baseball world by surprise at first to see the once-great hobbled with injuries and a liability in the Tigers’ lineup. Once in a while, Cabrera has a swing that reminds fans of a previous era of his greatness. The fluid, swift, and flawless motion is a thing of beauty and a toll a lot of young hitters aspire to have. It’s a reminder of what baseball has missed for a while and what was once an elite hitter who couldn’t be stopped.

There’s no telling when Judge will slow down or if he’ll decline altogether. At the moment, he looks like he’s not slowing down anytime soon but that’s what Cabrera looked like in 2012, a great hitter with no signs of slowing down. For now, Judge’s greatness has to be appreciated. He’s the best hitter in the game and in his prime. The Yankees haven’t had a hitter like him in over a decade and possibly longer. He’s a star and potential Hall of Famer playing at a level that is rarely seen at the plate. Fans simply have to take it in.

Main Image: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x