Just a month ago, Aaron Judge was caught in the throes of a dreadful slump. Every at-bat seemed to end in either a strikeout or a lazy fly ball. Rumors circulated that he was playing through a slight shoulder injury. The roots of his struggles remained unclear. What became evident, however, was that Judge’s case for the American League MVP dwindled into thin air.
Then the calendar flipped to September. At first the signs came at fleeting intervals. A big hit here, a home run there. Fans grew excited, but with tempered expectations. The last few weeks though have confirmed it. Judge broke out of his slump, and in a big way. His performance of late has even jumpstarted his MVP candidacy.
Theres’ no underselling Judge’s September heroics. Heading into Monday afternoon’s game, he’s hit .296/.436/.831 with 11 home runs across 94 plate appearances.. That adds up to a Ruthian 212 wRC+. It’s hard to believe that Judge could top his early season dominance, but he has so far this month. His 1.267 OPS stands out as the best mark of his career. He doesn’t appear to show any signs of slowing down, either.
In terms of overall value, Judge currently leads the pack. He’s accrued 7.3 fWAR on the season to date. That puts him in a tie with Jose Altuve for best mark in the American League. He leads other candidates such as Mike Trout (6.2) and Jose Ramirez (6.1) in that category. If the baseball writers prioritize value-added metrics, then Judge would have a fighting chance. He’s arguably been the most indispensable player in the American League.
The voting pool, however, doesn’t always keep these numbers in mind. Narratives play a significant role in determining MVP outcomes. That said, Judge has a case in this category as well. There exist a number of storylines that could elevate him to the MVP level. For example, he has carried the Yankees to this resurgence. Heading into spring training, no one expected the Bombers to compete for the postseason. Brian Cashman called the club a “team in transition”. Judge instead led them to the playoffs.
His record-breaking rookie campaign also helps. His 119 walks stands as the best mark for a rookie in Major League Baseball history. He passed Ted Williams (107 walks) earlier in the month. Judge also broke the Yankees’ rookie home run record. He overpassed Joe DiMaggio in July. Now he’s just one long ball away from passing Mark McGwire on the all-time rookie home run list. Those are some name brands.
Of course the two months of sluggish performance following the All-Star break will weigh against Judge. That contributed to the the Yankees falling behind in the division, and writers will penalize him accordingly. That said, his hot streak in September will make up some goodwill. Altuve and Ramirez are no sure things, so it’s definitely possible Judge overtakes them down the stretch.
As things stand, Judge is a lock for the American League Rookie of the Year. That appears a given. He now has a chance to be the third ever Rookie of the Year and MVP, behind Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki. Whether he pulls off the feat remains to be seen. What’s clear, however, is that Judge’s play of late has re-entered him in the discussion. After standing on the outside looking in, Judge now firmly looks like a MVP candidate.