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Aaron Judge’s regression already happened

Even the second half version of Judge was one of the best players in the league.

New York Yankees Vs. Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

When I took a brief look at the Yankees’ 2018 ZiPS projections, one of the things that stood out for people was that incredibly conservative projection for Aaron Judge. Despite posting a 173 wRC+ with 52 home runs in 2017, ZiPS projects a .253/.364/.552 triple-slash, good for what would “only” be a 139 wRC+.

I agree. Consider the fact this projection weighs his rookie year, where he had a 44.2% strikeout rate. We’re not going to forget that, either. Yet as observers of baseball, we are subjectively aware of the fact that Judge is a completely different player now than he was then. He made noticeable changes to make that a reality; he’s not going backwards.

At the same time, though, regression is usually a fact of life. There have been 19 player seasons of a wRC+ above 170 in the past decade, and the only ones to improve upon their performance were Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Given this is the upper bounds of physical performance, there’s almost a certainty he is worse overall this year than last.

This isn’t exactly something to fear. Even though Judge’s second half is such a pain point for Yankees fans, partial evidence that there is a necessary hole in his game, he still managed to be one of the better players in the league. Here is where Judge ranked in the league by his full season stats:

  • fWAR: 1st
  • wRC+: 2nd
  • HR: 2nd
  • ISO: 2nd

Now here is where he ranked in the second half:

  • fWAR: 15th
  • wRC+: 16th
  • HR: 4th
  • ISO: 5th

It is nearly in conflict with what we saw in the second half, but that’s what is amazing about the Judge we know now, not the one in 2016 that the projection systems may consider.

In the second half, he hit .228/.391/.548. That batting average makes one think that because he does not make much contact, he is bad by proxy. He still had the second-highest walk rate in the league, and he was still fourth in the league in home runs. That is a 144 wRC+, and that is a great player.

This is why that even though I completely agree with the sentiment that Judge will lessen in impact next year, the extent to which he regresses will likely be less than the projection systems thinks. We have seen what “bad” looks like for him, and that is his second half of 2017. Fortunately for Judge and for the Yankees, that is still something like a five-win player, who are still among the best in the league.

That being said, he could prove us all wrong and repeat his 2017, and that would just solidify him as a generational talent of a hitterr, changing the conversation altogether. It’s human nature to hedge, though, and that is my habit as a baseball fan. What makes Judge such a freak of a talent, though, is that even hedging on him makes him a top-fifteen player in baseball, and he’s hitting beside Giancarlo Stanton.