It was a debut campaign for the ages. Aaron Judge was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year honors, while finishing second in the MVP voting. He also won the Silver Slugger Award and was a Gold Glove finalist. The Yankees right fielder completed his extraordinary breakout season by leading the league with 52 homers, 128 runs scored, and 127 walks. He was second in RBIs (114), on-base percentage (.422), slugging average (.627), and OPS (1.049).
Along the way, Judge broke Mark McGwire's 30-year-old rookie home run record. He also topped the rookie walk record, set by Ted Williams way back in 1939. All this, despite a mid-summer slump which began immediately after the All-Star break and stretched to the end of August. Judge's second half struggles may or may not be attributable to his injured shoulder, which was surgically repaired after the season.
The operation was declared a success, and the Yankees anticipate that he will be ready to play when spring training begins. Needless to say, expectations will be high for the man who was baseball's biggest story in 2017 as he heads into his sophomore season.
Enter Giancarlo Stanton. The reigning National League MVP is now a member of the New York Yankees following one of the biggest blockbuster trades in club history. Like Judge, Stanton was an All-Star who won the Silver Slugger for right field. He led the senior circuit with 59 homers, 132 RBIs, and a .631 slugging average.
This marks the second time in franchise history that the defending home run champs from both leagues donned the Yankee pinstripes. In 1949, the club acquired veteran slugger Johnny Mize from the crosstown rival Giants. It was a mid-season deal aimed at bolstering a lineup that was struggling to score while defending AL home run champion Joe DiMaggio was sidelined with a nagging injury. The Big Cat helped the Yankees win five straight World Series titles, with Joltin' Joe along for the first three.
This rare pairing of incumbent home run champs only happened two other times in baseball history. The most recent was in 1976, when ex-Phillies star Dick Allen returned to the fold after a stint in the junior circuit to join a young Mike Schmidt. In 1947, an aging Hank Greenburg left the Tigers to join young slugger Ralph Kiner in Pittsburgh.
What is unprecedented about the pairing of Judge and Stanton is the fact that they are both in their prime years of production. Each previous time the defending league home run champions united on the same team, at least one was an aging star in decline. In the case of Mize and DiMaggio, they both were.
At 28 years old, Stanton may very well have his best years ahead of him. But unlike the 25-year-old Judge, Stanton is not merely beginning his career. He is already a 10-year major league veteran with a solid track record of success behind him.
Since his MLB debut in 2010, Stanton has clubbed 267 homers. Only three players hit more over that same time frame. Moreover, 2017 wasn't Stanton's first home run title. He previously led the NL with 37 dingers in 2014. Although his 59 homers last year was a career high, as well as being one of the highest single-season totals in baseball history, Stanton has been a consistent source of power. He average 23 homers per season over his first nine years.
The prospect of Stanton and Judge hitting in the same lineup is absolutely fascinating. Stanton has been the centerpiece of a mostly lousy Marlins team. He now joins not only Judge, but a group of other young sluggers that include Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. While Stanton will be the veteran of the group, I think it's reasonable to assume that he will benefit from the added lineup protection just as much as they will. It will be very exciting to see how these hitters feed off each other to terrorize pitchers.
The only time in major league history that a pair of teammates hit more than 50 homers in the same season was 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle accomplished the feat. The arrival of Stanton in the Bronx sets up an epic home run watch that will begin on Opening Day and will be exciting to follow as the season unfolds.
Just think, Stanton and Judge could show regression in 2018 and still combine to hit more than 100 home runs. Will they follow in the footsteps of Mantle and Maris and become the second pair of teammates to each hit more than 50 bombs in a year? Stay tuned and enjoy the ride.