Don't run on these AL East throwing arms

May 29th, 2020

Everybody rises at Yankee Stadium whenever Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge hits one of his mammoth home runs into seats. But Judge is more than just a power hitter.

Don’t you dare run on his arm. Go ahead, try to take that extra base against “The Judge” after you get a base hit. Chances are, you won’t make it. In fact, since he entered the Major Leagues on a full-time basis in 2017, Judge has 21 assists. He would probably have a lot more if he didn’t miss time because of injuries the last two years.

As we think about Judge’s exploits on the field, we asked our American League East beat writers to pick the best throwing arm for each of the five teams in the division. The reporters believe these defenders are run stoppers.

Blue Jays:
It's never been a question of physical tools for Hernández, who has some of the best raw power and speed on the Blue Jays' roster. But that defense is something else. Hernández tied for sixth in the AL with nine outfield assists in 2019 and ranked third in '18 with 11, behind only Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Haniger of the Mariners.

Defense remains a major variable for Hernández moving forward, but he's expected to remain in right field with Randal Grichuk in center for the immediate future. All of these tools still need to come together over a sustained period, but it's easy to see why the Blue Jays believe there's upside remaining with Hernández, who is only 27. -- Keegan Matheson

Per Statcast, Severino owns the seventh-strongest arm among 31 MLB catchers, averaging 83.8 mph on competitive throws last season (minimum 20 max-effort throws). That helped Severino maintain an average pop time of 1.99 seconds per stolen base attempt, which is better than league average. The 26-year-old has always had a strong arm -- and has always had the reputation as someone who likes to show it off. He did so often during his debut season in Baltimore, routinely throwing behind runners when the situation warranted (and sometimes when it did not).

For an example of Severino needing every bit of his raw arm strength, let’s review his 84.3 mph throw from last May 8 against Boston. Mychal Givens’ dirt-ball slider required Severino’s strongest tracked throw of the season on a caught stealing, nabbing Rafael Devers on a bang-bang play at the second-base bag. -- Joe Trezza

Kiermaier has used his innate ability for tracking down the ball right off the bat, along with his elite speed, to establish himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in the Majors. But his arm strength might be what separates him from the rest. In his seven-year career, Kiermaier has recorded 43 outfield assists, and he has his right arm to thank for the bulk of those. Kiermaier has consistently shown off his arm, firing a couple of 100 mph throws on outfield assists to nab both Cody Bellinger and J.T. Realmuto at the plate.

Shortstop Willy Adames could have a case here, but this answer will likely always be Kiermaier until the end of his tenure in St. Petersburg. His arm is that good. -- Juan Toribio

Red Sox:
The Red Sox have two outfielders with certifiable cannons for arms in Bradley and Alex Verdugo. But the edge, for now, has to go to Bradley, given his impressive body of work over the years. The most impressive throw of Bradley’s career was on June 19, 2018, when he threw an absolute laser beam to the plate to nail Minnesota’s Robbie Grossman. You can’t fault Grossman for trying to go home on the attempted sacrifice fly. The drive seemed plenty deep to score him. But Bradley’s throw purred in at 103.4 mph, according to Statcast. Bradley had 10 assists in each of the last two seasons and a career high of 13 in 2016.

Verdugo, who was a pitcher in high school, made a 98.4 mph throw for the Dodgers on April 18 of last season. It will be interesting to see how many baserunners try to run on Bradley and Verdugo. Clearly, they will be doing so at their own risk. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Aaron Judge
This category presents a difficult decision on the Yankees’ roster. Aaron Hicks uncorked the hardest throw ever clocked by Statcast in 2016 (105.5 mph), and Gary Sánchez is known for having one of the best arms among big league catchers. But with Hicks recovering from Tommy John surgery, we’ll give this nod to Judge, who has tallied 23 outfield assists since joining the Yankees in 2016.

In 2018, Judge grinned when told that one of his rockets had been clocked at 100.5 mph, remarking that he’d been trying to reach triple digits for some time. Judge is deceptively graceful; watch his toss on May 26, 2018, from the right-field corner at Yankee Stadium, in which he appears to be lobbing a throw to the cutoff man. The ball arrives as a strike at second base, nabbing the Angels’ Martin Maldonado attempting to stretch a single into a double. -- Bryan Hoch