Sometimes a player’s true value isn’t fully appreciated until the team is forced to play without him for an extended period of time. Watching the Yankees barely tread water without Aaron Judge through an excruciatingly long stretch this season certainly reinforced that notion.
Judge missed nearly one-third of the 2018 campaign after fracturing his wrist on July 26th. The Yankees went 73-39 (.651) and scored an average of 5.42 runs per game with Judge in the lineup. Without him, New York was 27-22 (.551), while scoring only 4.86 runs per game. Sure, there were other factors besides Judge’s absence, but none carried nearly as much weight.
For the second straight year, Judge led the Yankees in on-base percentage (.392), slugging average (.528), and OPS (.919). He belted 27 home runs, tying him for second on the team, while team-leader Giancarlo Stanton saw over 200 more plate appearances to hit his 38. Judge seemed to have the Midas touch, as the Yankees went 21-6 (.778) when he homered and 37-12 (.755) when he drove in at least one run.
It doesn’t matter who else is in the lineup, or how well they happen to be hitting. The Yankees’ batting order is built around Judge. He makes all the other hitters around him better. And when he’s missing, it’s a palpable absence.
We’ve been spoiled watching Judge cover right field flawlessly, while consistently making plays that others can’t. We are endlessly amused when runners try to take the extra base against Judge’s arm, only to be gunned out. And the stats confirm everything we’ve seen from him on a game-to-game basis.
Mookie Betts produced +20 defensive runs saved this year, and is the only right fielder in baseball to best Judge’s +14. Bear in mind, though, that this is a counting stat, and Betts played 1,112 innings in the field compared to Judge’s 789. In fact, only 12 players at any position out-performed Judge in this all-encompassing defensive metric, even though they all logged substantially more innings on defense.
Judge was by far the Bombers’ best overall defender, with only Brett Gardner (+10 DRS) also reaching double digits. Most Yankees players were right around league average (except Miguel Andujar at -25 DRS).
Judge is the Yankees’ most valuable player — on both sides of the ball — and his leadership isn’t limited to what happens between the lines. Although veterans like CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson command a lot of respect in the clubhouse, Judge is emerging as the de facto captain of the team.
Like all the greats, Judge rises to the occasion. He homered in each of New York’s first three postseason games. Two of those blasts gave the Bombers first-inning leads which they never relinquished. It’s unfortunate that those were the team’s only two playoff wins this year, and that their pennant pursuit ended way too soon. But I am hopeful that Judge can remain injury-free next year, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do over a full slate.