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.