Why didn’t Aaron Judge run more on purpose?

Aaron Judge had one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history this year. He led the major leagues or tied in many major categories: home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, total bases, RBI, extra-base hits, and wins over substitutes. He narrowly missed the rare feat of a triple crown, in which a hitter leads his league in batting average, home runs and RBI

With a hitter this imposing, it’s to be expected that some opposing teams would want to avoid facing him in game-at-risk situations, instead opting to lead him on purpose and try someone else from the Yankees to let her hit. Under the practices of this era of baseball, driven by data and probability, that is no longer the case.

Despite hitting .311 on 62 homers, 131 RBI and a 1,111 on-base-plus slugging percentage in 696 plate appearances this season, Judge was purposely run just 19 times. He didn’t even lead the majors, with that honor falling to José Ramírez, the Cleveland Guardians’ hitter who will take on the Yankees in their American League best-of-five series in the Bronx beginning Tuesday. Ramírez, a switch-hitting third baseman, was intentionally run 20 times.

Both are a far cry from the days of Barry Bonds. On his way to 762 career home runs in 22 seasons, Bonds was intentionally run an average of 31 times per year. During his prime, when he averaged 44 home runs a year from 1993-2004 with the San Francisco Giants, it went up to an average of 41 intentional walks per season. In 2004 alone, he was intentionally walked 120 times.

Like everything in life, baseball evolves. And given today’s strategies, teams have balked at intentional walks. In 1993, with a 28-team league, there were 1,477 intentional walks in Major League Baseball during the regular season. That year, in a league with 30 teams and more regular-season games, it was just 475.

As pitcher speeds, pitch movement, and strikeout rates have increased dramatically over the years, statistics show that it is almost always better for teams to attack than turn in a loss. And with home runs soaring to record levels of late, it’s more likely than ever that the next batter after the dreaded slugger will make an opponent pay for a deliberate walk.

“The likelihood of this guy coming over to score with you, or making a run by hitting him, or pulling him on purposely without challenging him, generally says it’s in your best interest to just hit the.” hitter,” said Matt Blake, the Yankees’ pitching coach, explaining the modern rationale. (His pitching staff has made just 10 intentional walks this season, the fifth-lowest total in MLB)

But in playoff time, when the options are far more limited than in a 162-game regular season and an at-bat can swing an entire best-of-five or seven series, opposing managers may be more inclined to intentionally becoming a judge ?

“I don’t know what other teams are going to do,” said Dillon Lawson, the Yankees’ batting coach. “I would think it has a chance to be more likely.”

He continued, “But to think it would ever come close to being what Barry Bonds was then, baseball is different, at least the strategy behind some of it is different. I think they’re going to try to take the approach where it’s like, ‘Hey, we don’t want Aaron Judge to beat us.’ But I also think that he intentionally unintentionally ran a lot more and that won’t show up in the stats.

By that, Lawson meant that the teams tossed Judge cautiously and nibbled at the plate hoping he would chase balls out of the hitting zone. Tracking home runs #61 and #62 down the course, Judge encountered quite a bit of that cautious approach. The strategy can work: Judge has been second in the majors this season with 111 walks, but also seventh in strikeouts with 175.

“A lot of teams all year round just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go after him and see what happens’ or ‘We’re going to be a little careful with him and if he swings out of the zone, he swings. If he doesn’t, he’ll have his walk,'” Judge said, later adding, “But in the postseason, I expect teams to have scouting reports and do what they have to do. There will be certain situations where they will be after me or other guys. There will be certain situations where they will fight over me or other guys just to get the right matchup.”

Craig Counsell, a former player and current manager for the Milwaukee Brewers, said intentional walks have declined over the decades throughout the sport because run expectation charts show the average number of runs scored based on bases occupied and count of Outs – provide proof that intentional walks are not necessary.

If Bonds were to play in baseball’s analytically influenced era, Counsell hypothesized that he would “logically” purposely run less than before. However, Bonds is unique, he said.

“If you look at past generations, Barry Bonds has had more skating in three seasons than any other player in his career,” he said. “And probably had better seasons than Aaron Judge. That’s the norm. If you look at Barry Bonds’ intentional walks, it will never happen again.”

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, two other former sluggers with 60-homer seasons, were intentionally run much less than Bonds, with McGwire peaking at 28 in 1999 and Sosa at 37 in 2001. But because Bonds was a better all-rounder — his career batting average (.298) and OPS (1.051) were significantly higher — he was treated more cautiously.

When Bonds set an MLB season record of 73 home runs in 2001, he was intentionally run 35 times. Three years later, his 120 set a major league record. The next marks are 68 in 2002 and 61 in 2003; he holds both.

“A lot of teams understand how hard it is to score, especially with the major league pitching that we have today and in this era,” Judge said. “I feel like every single starter is throwing 95-plus and every guy in the bullpen is throwing 100. It’s still difficult to fix baseball and go out there and try to do something productive.”

During the postseason, manager Aaron Boone said he had a feeling it could be the same: Some teams may be more likely to consider the intentional walk when facing the judge. “And I’m sure there will be situations where it’s obvious to be a little grayer and that’s when you have to make a decision,” he said.

In 2019, the Houston Astros, an analytically-minded team, set an MLB record by issuing zero intentional walks. AJ Hinch, her manager at the time, had said that his stance on the subject “developed out of sheer education about what this means for points running and running prevention.”

But in the postseason, the Astros broke their streak. In Game 2 of the World Series against the Nationals, trailing 3-2 with two outs in the seventh inning, slugger Juan Soto hit the plate with runners on second and third base. Soto had already crushed Astro’s pitching and Hinch called out reliever Ryan Pressly to guide him on purpose.

Pressly struggled and the move backfired. After missing back-to-back singles on Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera, Soto scored a goal.

“Obviously I think there are a lot of downsides considering I haven’t done it all year,” Hinch said after the game. “But ironically, I thought it would be our best shot at capping their score and instead poured gasoline on an already burning fire.”

Looking back, Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was on the Astros at the time and starting Game 1 of the 2019 World Series, still admires Soto’s hitting but said it wasn’t a much better option, joining Soto’s teammates like third baseman Anthony to ask Rendon .

During the regular season, Cole said he would prefer to challenge Judge when they face each other rather than lead him on purpose. But in the playoffs, when the odds are limited, Cole said, “You throw away big data and go with what everyone is most comfortable with. And the pitcher and the catcher talked about who you want to attack and you just want to put yourself in the best position to succeed and sometimes that’s not facing a man.

One way for the Yankees to ensure teams aren’t so tempted to lead Judge in the playoffs — intentionally or not — is for the batters behind him to carry their weight in the lineup. First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit 32 homers this season, returned from a back injury in mid-September, and hitter-designate and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton started hitting better with 31 homers in the final two weeks of the season.

“We have to go after him,” Stanton said. “We need to make sure we capitalize on them running it and get it out there that you can’t just do that.”

Gary Phillips contributed reporting.