Aaron Judge was nothing short of a revelation in 2017, emerging as arguably – statistically, at least – the best player in baseball. That’s not hyperbole, either. Judge led the majors in FanGraphs’s WAR, finished second in Baseball-Reference’s WAR, and placed fourth in Baseball Prospectus’s WARP. And all of this came as a rookie playing under the brightest lights in the game, which is a feat in and of itself.
The projection systems justifiably saw a bit of regression. After all, precious few players are as good as Judge was as a rookie, and it’s difficult to project those sorts of talents as a result. Here’s a brief refresher on the more scientific expectations:
- ZiPS – .253/.364/.552, 43 HR, 14.3 BB%, 32.4 K%, 4.8 WAR
- Steamer – .253/.368/.517, 37 HR, 14.7 BB%, 30.5 K%, 3.8 WAR
- PECOTA – .247/.355/.505, 37 HR, 13.6 BB%, 31.0 K%, 4.1 WARP
It’s worth noting that all three projection systems had Judge with at least 610 plate appearances because, well, why wouldn’t they?
How did that work out?
Spoiler Alert: It Wasn’t a Fluke
Aaron Judge went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, and two strikeouts on Opening Day. He hit his first home run a week later, lunging at an outside pitch and somehow pulling it fairly deep to left center. Take a look:
By the time April came to a close, Judge was batting .317/.453/.584 with 7 HR, 19.5% walks, and 30.5% strikeouts. His walk and strikeout rates were just about where they were in 2018 as a whole (18.7% and 30.7%, respectively) and, while his power was a bit lighter it was still head and shoulders above the vast majority of big leaguers. It was an incredible first month that was somewhat overshadowed by Didi Gregorius’s own epic start, but make no mistake – it did a heck of a lot to show that Judge was unquestionably for real.
And he continued to rake in May. His .263/.386/.579 slash line that month looks less impressive, to be sure – but it was still good for an outstanding 160 wRC+, and he socked another 8 dingers. Interestingly, this wasn’t too far off from the ZiPS projection, albeit still a tick better in terms of walks, strikeouts, and power.
Judge was batting .291/.421/.582 with 15 HR, 17.8% walks, 29.3% strikeouts, and a 170 wRC+ when the calendar flipped to June. That wRC+ was good for fifth in all of baseball, and was right in-line with his 172 wRC+ in 2017. The biggest difference through this point was his power numbers – but some of that can be attributed to the league’s trends as a whole. The league-wide ISO dropped from .171 in 2017 to .161 this year, and the HR/FB dropped from 13.7% to 12.7%. Despite his otherworldly talent with the bat, Judge was not immune to this drop-off … but it didn’t really matter, because his production was roughly the same on the whole.
The June Slump
In 2017, Judge’s subpar August may well have torpedoed his shot at the MVP award. He slashed .185/.353/.326 (90 wRC+) and looked out of sorts at times. We learned later that he was playing through shoulder troubles, but that doesn’t change the fact that he looked utterly helpless at the dish at times. And he slumped again this June.
However, his slump was comparatively not bad at all; in fact, most players would love the sort of slump that Judge experience. He hit .234/.321/.489 (114 wRC+) with 6 home runs, and remained a productive player. His strikeout and walk rates both tipped in the wrong direction, which suggests that he was pressing – but, again, he was still a more than adequate hitter that month. And if that’s his downside, he’s a true mega-star.
Great hitters don’t stay down for too long, and Judge is no exception. He resumed his raking ways in July, batting .329/.427/.537 (166 wRC+) with another five home runs, and a nice return to form with his walks and strikeouts. He also did this to a Max Scherzer fastball in the All-Star game:
- 3rd in HR
- 6th in WAR
- 7th in BB%
- 9th in wRC+
Again, he wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2017 – but few players are. And he remained among the best in the game through the season’s midway point. What more could we ask for? Unfortunately:
The Assassination of Aaron Judge’s Wrist by the Coward Jakob Junis
Allow me to clarify something first: I don’t blame Junis for what happened. And it’s awful that Yankees fans threatened him on social media (and perhaps even in person) after the fact.
That being said, Junis plunked Judge on the right wrist on July 26, which resulted in the chip fracture that would keep His Honor sidelined for seven weeks (or 45 team games). The Yankees went 25-20 without him, which is a solid 90-win pace – but it clearly wasn’t the same team. And Judge wasn’t the same player when he returned on September 14, either, batting .220/.333/.341 (87 wRC+) through the end of the season. He did play his part in the Yankees tying (and then breaking) the Mariners single-season home run record:
Judge caught a bit of flack during the 2017 playoffs for his intermittent struggles, but that was more than a bit unfair. He was ineffective against the Indians in the ALDS (.308 OPS), but he came up big in the Wild Card game and went on to hit .250/.357/.708 against the Astros in the ALCS. I’ll take that without hesitation.
And then Judge took it to another level, slashing .421/.500/.947 with 3 home runs in the Yankees five playoff games this year. He reached base safely in every game, and reached base at least three times in three separate games. And, on the off-chance you’re not noticing a trend here, he hit this massive blast off of David Price in Game 2 of the ALDS:
Judge is entering his final pre-arbitration year, so the Yankees will be paying one of the best hitters in baseball less than a million bucks in 2019. How’s that for a bargain? He’ll spend most of next year at age-27, so he’s still right in the middle of his prime (if not just entering it), and our expectations should remain the same. It’ll get interesting when he reaches arbitration eligibility this time next season, especially if he maintains this level of excellence – but that’s a future Yankees problem (and a good one at that).