It’s hard to believe that Aaron Judge is already in his 6th full season as a pro. It seems like it was only yesterday that he was one of the “Baby Bombers” on that magical 2017 New York Yankees team who fell one game short of making the World Series. Since then his career has had it’s share of mostly ups and some downs and he’s on track this year to have his best season since that 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign. So where does Judge rank amongst all Yankees currently and assuming he finishes his career in pinstripes, where may he finish when it’s all said and done? Let’s take a closer look.
Judge’s past, current and future value can be mainly tied to 3 specific categories – Health, Power and Postseason Success.
We’ll start with the elephant in the room and address health. Judge’s best season was his rookie year in 2017 when he played 155 games. That allowed him to lead the league in runs, home runs, and walks and win the Rookie of the Year award and finish 2nd in the MVP voting to Astros second basemen Jose Altuve. Since then however, Judge has had some issues staying on the field. In 2018 Judge played 112 games, in 2019 he played 102 games and in 2020 he played only 28 games out of 60 in a shortened season. None of the injuries were lingering but there certainly were a variety – calf strains, fractured ribs, oblique strains, etc. At 6’7 and 280 pounds it’s to be expected to an extent, but at 30 years old would dropping a little bit of weight be a prudent strategy for a player who is a full time outfielder? Judge resembles another large man who used to patrol right field for the Yankees, Dave Winfield. Winfield was 6’6 but played at 220-230 pounds. After turning 30, Winfield played 152, 141, 155, 154, 156 and 149 games through his age 36 season. The Yankees would be thrilled if Judge could replicate that type of durability. The good news is that he played 148 games last season and hasn’t missed a game to injury yet this year. It’s not a coincidence that the Yankees are off to one of their best starts in years.
Judge is a solid defender and is showing slight improvement on hitting to all fields, but his value is tied to his most valuable asset, his power. His 162 game career averages? 115 runs, 46 home runs, 106 RBIs and a .946 OPS*.
Those are incredible numbers. Does he strike out a lot? Yes, but he also averages 100 walks a season as well. He’s also a victim of a very inconsistent strike zone due to his size. Some of Judge’s numbers already rank high in some of the major offensive categories in Yankees lore. His career OPS is good for 5th all time behind only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle – that is some pretty good company. Including this season if we went with conservative estimates and assumed Judge plays 7 more seasons and averages 35 home runs a season he’ll finish with over 400 career home runs. That would bump him to 4th on the Yankees all time home run list ahead of such names as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. Assuming better health and a couple of monster (40-50 home runs) seasons sprinkled in? There’s no reason to think Judge couldn’t reach 500 home runs which would be incredibly impressive considering he didn’t become a full time player until he was 25 years old.
Judging (no pun intended) any player on postseason performance is always a difficult task. Postseasons are notorious small sample sizes for most players because most players don’t reach the postseason consistently. Luckily for us, Aaron Judge is a New York Yankee and has 35 games of postseason experience for us to analyze. He does have 11 post season home runs and has played in 2 ALCS with a chance to get the World Series. His last 3 post season appearances however have not been very impressive. He’s hit a collective .128 with 10 strike outs in 39 at bats with 3 runs scored all on 3 solo home runs. For a franchise player, those numbers will have to improve going forward. The days of dynasties in baseball are most likely a thing of the past, so it wouldn’t be fair to hold Judge to the standard of Yankees of the past where they were in the World Series year in and year out. But when you think about the greatest players/moments in Yankees history – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter – they all have one thing in common. Championships. I don’t think Judge needs to win 3 or 4 championships to validate his legacy, but he needs to at least win one, especially to reach that legendary level. Don Mattingly is one of the most beloved Yankees of all time and he was one of my childhood heroes. But there is a reason he doesn’t get mentioned with some of those other names I mentioned. Hopefully Judge won’t finish his career in the same position.
If I was ranking Judge right now I’d have him as a top 25 Yankee of all time and if he continues his career trajectory he easily has the ability to be a top 6-7 all time Yankee when it’s all said and done. He has all the potential in the world and has handled the New York market as well as any athlete since the Derek Jeter/Eli Manning era. Will that potential be fulfilled?
*OPS stands for On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage. On Base Percentage measures how many times a hitter reaches base (either a hit or walk). Slugging Percentage measures how many total bases a hitter averages per at bat – a single is 1 total base, double is 2 total bases, triple is 3 total bases, home run is 4 total bases. OPS is as close to a fool proof way to measure a players value. The league average OPS is usually somewhere around .750 so anything above .900 is considered excellent and elite. The more you know…
Photo of Aaron Judge - Seth Wenig - Associated Press