At first glance, Aaron Judge’s 2018 season doesn’t live up to his stellar 2017 campaign. His offensive numbers declined slightly across the board as he missed an extended period of time with a major wrist injury. However, Judge remained one of the most feared batters in all of baseball, became a better overall player by adding Gold Glove-caliber defense to his resume, and was the man behind several of the Yankees’ biggest hits of the 2018 season. That includes the playoffs, too. There’s no doubt that he was the most valuable player and the de facto captain on the Yankees.
2018 Statistics: 112 games, 498 plate appearances, .278/.392/.528, 27 home runs, 67 RBI, 77 runs, 49 extra-base hits, 5.0 WAR, 149 wRC+
2019 Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration, under contract until 2022
Judge got off to a blistering start in 2018, smashing 15 home runs and 40 RBI over his first two months. Things slowed down a little bit in June, but he responded by slashing .329/.427/.537 in July.
All told, Judge had 25 home runs, 60 RBI and a .937 OPS at the All-Star Break. He even took Max Scherzer deep in his own park during the Midsummer Classic, which marked the first Yankees home run in the All-Star Game since Jason Giambi in 2002. Even though this represented a slight decline from his other-worldly start to the 2017 season, Judge was the heart and soul of the Yankees: they went as he went, and things were going well.
Then everything changed on the night of July 26, 2018, when an errant Jakob Junis fastball hit Judge on his right wrist. Yankees fans held their breath, but it turned out that Judge had suffered a chip fracture and would be out for at least three weeks. Still, that seemed like a timetable that the Yankees could live with, and the team passed on acquiring a short-term replacement at the trade deadline.
Instead, the three-week prognosis would become a sick joke, as Judge missed almost two full months healing. Though the Yankees eventually swung a trade for Andrew McCutchen to fill the gap in August, the team went just 26-22 without Judge, hitting just .237 in the process. During this time, career infielder Neil Walker and journeyman Shane Robinson were regularly manning right field, to predictably poor results.
The Yankees also lost ground to the Red Sox for first place in the AL East during this time, and sort of limped into the playoffs despite being a 100-win team. This season could have been drastically different had Junis just hit his spot with a fourth-inning fastball in a meaningless July game against Kansas City.
Judge would return in mid-September, but he took a while to get things going. He hit just one home run in his regular-season return, but came through when the team needed him most in the playoffs. Judge hit an early home run in the AL Wild Card Game and two more in the ALDS against the Red Sox. Judge had eight hits, a .421 average and 1.447 OPS in his brief playoff run, a marked improvement over his .188 showing in the 2017 postseason. Still, it wasn’t enough for the Yankees to beat their archrivals.
We all knew that Judge would continue to rake at the plate, but Judge’s defense made a quantum leap this year. He had 14 defensive runs saved, five more than last season, in almost 500 fewer innings. Judge’s arm receives a lot of attention, and with good reason. He also has solid defensive instincts though, getting himself into the right positioning and taking the proper angles to the ball. For his efforts, Judge was nominated for the Gold Glove but lost out to Mookie Betts.
All in all, Aaron Judge’s 2018 season earns a solid A-. He didn’t duplicate his 2017 campaign, but that was an unfair expectation anyway. With some better injury luck in 2019, there’s no reason to think Judge won’t pop 40 dingers to go with an average in the .280s. He is one of the best players and most recognizable faces in all of baseball, and he is still only 26 years old.