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Is the Aaron Judge hype train going too fast?

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is the talk of the town after blasting a 495-foot home run on Sunday and taking over the American League lead in all three Triple Crown categories. He’s hitting a lusty .344/.450/.718 with an MLB-best 21 home runs and 47 RBI in 249 plate appearances.

It wasn’t like this was a surprise. Judge is listed at 6’7″ and 282 pounds, so he had power potential just from the size of his body alone. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, Judge hit a more realistic .270/.366/.489 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI in 410 trips to the plate. Still great, but not out-of-this-world good.

With Mike Trout on the disabled list and Bryce Harper having cooled off, Judge has created a sizable distance between himself and the field in FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement. He’s at 3.9, Trout is closest at 3.3 followed by Paul Goldschmidt‘s 3.2. This, the Triple Crown stats, the jaw-dropping distances on his homers, and more has led to many crowning Judge already a star of Major League Baseball. In fact, FS1’s Rob Parker already lists Judge as one of the five greatest sluggers of all-time, which is laughable.

We need not run over a list of pan-flashes to rein in our excitement. Chris Shelton. Bryan LaHair. Kevin Maas.

There are also some telling stats. Some stats paint a great picture, like his hard-contact rate of 49.6 percent, which is second-best in baseball behind Miguel Sano. He’s drawn walks in 15.3 plate appearances, which is outstanding. But these show us Judge probably won’t keep this up over a full season, let alone his career:

  • He has a .432 BABIP: There have been 2,258 qualified player-seasons between 2000-16. Only one player, the Brewers’ Jose Hernandez in 2002, finished the season with a BABIP of .400 or higher (.404). Only 10 in total have been at .390 or above. David Wright and Josh Hamilton are the only ones on that list who are referred to as power hitters. The list is otherwise almost entirely made up of contact hitters like Ichiro Suzuki.
  • He has a 41.2 percent HR/FB rate: Since 2000, the best HR/FB rate ever posted was 39.5 percent by Ryan Howard in 2006, when he hit 58 homers and won the NL MVP Award. That was by far a career-high for Howard and he’d never come close to it again. His career average finished at 25.8 percent after injuries and adjustments from the opposition. The next-best HR/FB rate since 2000 was set by Jim Thome in 2002 at 34.7 percent. Even the best power hitters of this millennium struggled to reach 35 percent. To say that a 40-plus-percent HR/FB rate for Judge is normal is to say he’ll be the best power hitter of any recent generation and perhaps ever.
  • He strikes out at a 28.1 percent clip: Power hitters strike out a lot, it’s just the trade off between swinging for power and swinging for contact. 28 percent isn’t exactly abhorrent, as it’s about seven percent above the league average. But it’s still among the highest in baseball — 15th, to be exact — and paired with his walk rate means he’s not putting the ball in play nearly 45 percent of the time. The league likely hasn’t caught up to Judge yet, exploiting weaknesses in his swing and general approach, so the strikeout rate could actually climb in the coming months.

Judge will be an All-Star this season and, God-willing, a participant in the Home Run Derby. If he’s able to keep up the production, he’ll be in the conversation for the AL MVP Award at the very least. But when questions like this are being asked…

… we should probably hop off the hype train for just a little while and collect ourselves.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 13, Pirates 0: The scores of the last five games the Nationals have played: 13-0, 16-8, 15-14, 2-1, 17-7. Which of these doesn’t belong?

Heh, trick question. All but the 2-1 score don’t belong because the rest are football scores that, however fun they may be in isolation, are the products of the sort of breakdown of baseball aesthetics which I ranted about yesterday. I mean, I guess there’s something in every game for everyone, but at some point these conga-line-around-the-base-paths games become dreary as hell, yes?

At least this one had some pitching from one of the teams, as four Washington pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout. But even then it was the equivalent of a bullpen game, with the starter, Joe Ross, only going three and a third innings thanks to being hit with a comebacker. So you didn’t even get the benefit of a traditionally nice starting pitching performance. Oh well. Asdrúbal Cabrera homered and drove in five runs. Adam Eaton, Matt Adams and Trea Turner went deep for the Nats as well. Juan Soto reached base five times. Someone missed an extra point along the way. Whatever. These are kinda fun games when they’re rare, but when they happen every night you can have ’em.

Royals 5, Orioles 4: Nicky Lopez and Nick Dini hit back-to-back homers on consecutive pitches in the seventh inning to turn a one-run game into a three-run game. By virtue of a late O’s comeback that fell short, those dingers proved to be essential game-winners. Guess you could say they hit those . . . in the nick of time?

[Ed: You could say that, but I’d really prefer you didn’t]

Who’s that talking?

[Ed: It’s me, your editor]

But I don’t have an editor. I thought that was fairly obvious.

[Ed: Just go back to recapping, Craig]

Um . . . OK. That’s eight straight losses for the Orioles. We need a ten-game series between them and the Pirates right now.

Mariners 9, Rays 3: The M’s jumped all over Brendan McKay, scoring seven off of him — though only three earned — in the first two innings. After the game he was optioned back to Durham, so no, not a great night for the kid. He’ll be back, though. He’s too talented not to be. Tom Murphy homered twice and drove in four for Seattle and Austin Nola also went deep and drove in three.

Padres 3, Reds 2: The starting pitching matchup was Trevor Bauer vs. Eric Lauer — Bauer vs. Lauer! — so that’s fun. Neither pitched poorly — Bauer bounced back from his nightmare start against the Nats last week, allowing three over seven and striking out 11 — but Bauer took the loss. Lauer allowed only one run over four and the Pads bullpen only surrendered one more over five. Francisco Mejía homered for San Diego. Manny Machado had an RBI single, which makes him 10-for-15 in his career off Bauer with four homers, two doubles and six RBI. He owns Bauer so thoroughly that he’ll have to give permission to whatever team tries to sign him when he hits free agency after next season. The Reds mounted a ninth inning rally against Kirby Yates, loading the bases and getting three hits, but he got out of it having allowed only one run to cross the plate.

Cardinals 3, Brewers 0: Dakota Hudson took a no-hitter into the seventh but was lifted when he reached 111 pitches and started to get into some trouble. The Cardinals bullpen carried the no-no on into the eighth, but Yasmani Grandal broke it up with a double. It happens. Still, St. Louis got the shutout — a one-hitter — and that’s pretty sweet. Paul DeJong homered for the Cards, who have won eight of ten and hold a half game lead over Chicago.

Rangers 8, Angels 7: The Angels held a 7-1 lead after two innings but would not score again. A Rougned Odor RBI single in the eighth tied things up and forced extras and then Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a chopper that turned into a walkoff infield single, scoring Jose Trevino for the win. Trevino homered earlier. Hunter Pence had three hits and reached base five times. Shohei Ohtani had a big night for L.A. in a losing cause, hitting an RBI triple, reaching base four times and scoring twice.

Astros 5, Tigers 4: Yuli Gurriel had two hits and drove in two as the Astros jumped out to an early lead and then held on despite allowing scads of Tiger baserunners. Fourteen hits for Detroit, in fact. Like strikes in bowling, however, bunching hits up is sometimes more important than the number you have.

White Sox 6, Twins 4: José Abreu hit a three-run homer in the Sox’ four-run third inning while Ivan Nova allowed only two runs over six despite giving up ten hits. Apart from that homer, Kyle Gibson pitched well for the Twins. Let’s check in on both starters’ assessments of their nights. First Gibson:

“In this case, I picked the wrong time to not execute a pitch. When I look back at how many pitches I executed and where my stuff was, it’s one of those weird nights where I felt like I threw the ball pretty well and unfortunately got beat by the wrong guy at the wrong time.”

Now Nova:

“This was one of the best games I pitched the whole year. Guys might say, `Why?’ The way that I was throwing the first two innings it felt like I didn’t have my best stuff. I was able to get to the sixth and only give up two runs. They got 10 hits, and to be able to keep them to two runs with a lineup like this it’s a lot of hard work.”

Baseball be like that sometimes.

Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 3: Carson Kelly — which sounds more like the name of a Pac-10 quarterback than a big league catcher, but we’ll let that go for now — hit a tie-breaking homer in the eighth inning which was followed by a two-run triple by David Peralta to help the Snakes rally for three and the win. Kelly now has 18 homers on the season. Seven INTs, though, and we got what looks to be a trap game against Oregon State next week. Can’t look past them to Oregon or U-Dub, not when you’re playing in Corvallis. These conference games all matter, Jim. There are no patsies.

[Ed: Who’s Jim? And are you feeling OK?]

God, it’s nice not to have an editor.