It’s hard to ignore what New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge is doing and what he’s doing is putting together an MVP-like campaign.Entering the 2017 season, coming off a dismal start to his career, there were very few calling for a breakout campaign for New York Yankees rookie sensation Aaron Judge.
In fact, it was unclear that the 6-foot-7 slugger would even earn the starting right field job over the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks. That is, until the last week of spring training. There were a surplus of questions surrounding the outfielder, who struck out in 42 of his first 84 at-bats, but he has done nothing but answer all of them in authoritative style.
Following a home run — which traveled 431 feet with an exit velocity of 112 mph, per MLB.com’s Statcast — on Memorial Day against the Baltimore Orioles, Judge now leads the Major Leagues in home runs with 17 round trippers. Ahead of Los Angeles Angels’ superstar Mike Trout (who will now miss 6-8 weeks with a thumb injury), Texas Rangers’ Joey Gallo and Oakland Athletics’ Khris Davis for the major-league lead.
Judge has also dropped his strikeout rate from 44.2 percent last year down to 28.8 percent this season, helping him earn responsibility for nine of the 30 batted balls hit with an average exit velocity of 115 mph or greater.
On the season, he is slashing .319/.419/.687, leads the league in home runs (17), leads the American League in runs scored (38) and is just the 11th Yankee in franchise history to hit 17 or more home runs in the team’s first 48 games.
The interesting part about that last stat is the most recent slugger to do so — Alex Rodriguez in 2005 (17) and 2007 (19). In both those seasons, A-Rod took home the AL MVP honors and it’s starting to look like things are heading in the same direction for Judge:
- A-Rod, 2005: .318/.415/.642, 16 HR, 47 RBIs, 1.057 OPS
- A-Rod, 2007: .305/.396/.684, 19 HR, 44 RBIs, 1.080 OPS
- Judge, 2017: .319/.419/.687, 17 HR, 35 RBIs, 1.106 OPS
Those are the numbers throughout the player’s first 46 games in his respective season. Judge, aside from a very team-based statistic in RBIs, is either right there with or surpassed the MVP of 2005 and 2007. Compared to Trout’s MVP season last year, Judge’s 1.106 OPS so far trumps Trout’s .985 he posted at this point a year ago.
Oh, he also has two more home runs than Roger Maris had through his first 46 games in 1961 — the year he set the single-season home run record that would stand until 2001. Overall, Judge is on pace to hit 59 home runs, drive in 123 runs and total 394 bases, which would place him with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio as the only four Yankees to total 390 or more bases in a single season.
Then, you have to look a little further, as Judge’s defense is making him an even more engaging candidate. Among qualified right fielders, only Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox owns more defensive runs saved than Judge — who has saved six runs for New York this season, according to FanGraphs.
Right now, it seems as though Trout is the only player in Judge’s way — only Trout’s WAR of 3.6 is better than Judge’s 2.5 — but that unfortunately changed when news broke that the perennial MVP candidate will operate on a torn thumb ligament.
Of course, there is way too much season ahead of us to jump to the conclusion that Judge will join Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki as the only three players to be named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same year.
What we do know, however, is that the first-place Yankees are 13-2 when Judge homers and as long as this pace keeps up, year two of the epic rebuild will continue to look like a massive success story.