New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge had the best rookie season of the decade, and maybe all-time.
Mike Trout. Jose Abreu. Bryce Harper. Kris Bryant. Carlos Correa. Pete Alonso. These players provided us the best rookie performances of the decade. As great as their rookie campaigns were, none can match that of New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge in 2017.
Prior to that year, Judge was a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, but he was abysmal upon being called up to the majors in 2016.
In 27 games with the Yankees in 2016, he slashed a horrid .179/.263/.345, striking out 42 times in 84 at-bats. He even struggled defensively, compiling a DRS of -1 and a UZR of 0.6.
The Yankees missed the playoffs that season. Their rookie catcher Gary Sanchez was the sole shining star on a miserable team.
The horrendous year that was 2016 would go on to haunt Judge. Nonetheless, that was for his own good, the good of the team, and the good of the fans.
The 25-year-old then became a different animal in 2017. Fans had no expectations for him nor the team that year. They perceived the Yankees as a rebuilding squad.
The shy, soft-spoken, gentle giant from Linden, CA would quietly go on to have one of the best rookie seasons ever, capturing the hearts of an entire fanbase in the process.
His rookie campaign was fun and memorable and it was a season defined by his power. It seemed like he hit a home run every other game to start the year, but he had to cool off at some point, right? Well, he did struggle through a second-half slump, but that wasn’t enough to stop him from chasing down Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record.
In 2017, Judge slashed .284/.422/.627 with a whopping 1.049 OPS, and 171 OPS+. While he led the majors in strikeouts with 208, he also led the AL in walks (127), runs scored (128), and, of course, set the single-season rookie home run record at 52. He even became a great defender, finishing with a DRS of 9 and a UZR of 6.1.
His home run record has since been broken by New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who also earned an All-Star Game nod and won the Home Run Derby during his rookie season.
Although Alonso accomplished many of the same feats as his fellow New Yorker, Judge’s numbers in 2017 were unbelievably dominant. What makes his rookie season unique is the impact he had on his team and the league at large. Within less than one season, Judge became one of the faces of the sport.
He’s so likable. People who hate the Yankees admit it’s hard to direct that same vitriol at Judge. He’s always smiling, doing good work for the community, and is humble beyond belief. His jersey was the most popular in the entire league in 2017.
Most importantly, Yankees fans, along with baseball fans in general, will always remember 2017 as the end of the Bombers’ rebuild. He carried a 2017 team with no expectations to the American League Championship Series. They would lose in Game 7 to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.
It has since come to light that the Astros used an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 season. Who knows what the Yankees could’ve done had that not been the case? Without Judge, the 2017 Yankees’ Cinderella story almost certainly doesn’t happen.
Not only did Judge make the All-Star Game and win the Home Run Derby, but he also won the Silver Slugger Award, and most importantly, finished second in the AL MVP voting.
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve won the MVP. Nevertheless, the argument that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America robbed Judge of the honor carries validity. He had Altuve beat in most major statistics with the exception of batting average and strikeout rate.
The players mentioned at the beginning of the piece were phenomenal rookies, but what Judge did is unmatched.
Simply speaking, the outfielder had the best rookie season of the past decade. There’s a case that can be made it was the best rookie season of all time.