One of the interesting things about Aaron Judge’s rookie season, which is arguably one of the better rookie seasons in memory, is that it could have been even better. Even though he had a 173 wRC+, 52 home runs, and 8.2 fWAR, four months of his season were hampered by a left shoulder injury. That ultimately led to arthroscopic surgery, which included “loose-body removal and cartilage clean-up.”
If you look at the months where he was at full health, it’s a jaw-dropping picture: 366 plate appearances, 30 HR, 197 wRC+, a 16.7% walk rate, and a 29.8% strikeout rate. That’s pretty incredible! There have only been 19 player-seasons with a higher wRC+ since World War II, and only eight since 1988 (only three of those were not from Barry Bonds).
It is even more interesting when you look at his season so far because, even with the small sample size it is... exactly at the same level as when he was healthy last year. As of April 12th he had an even 200 wRC+, almost identical to his 197 wRC+. One of the reasons why I thought this was all noteworthy, though, is because he is doing it in ways we wouldn’t expect from him. It means that he’s probably an even better player than we thought when he can produce offensively at that level even though he “only” has three home runs.
Here are the following offensive categories and how he changed from the prior year (in plus/minus percentage):
- BB%: -6.63%
- K%: -15.44%
- ISO: -35.74%
- O-Swing%: +7.38%
- Swing%: -6.27%
- O-Contact%: +10.97%
- Contact%: -3.46%
- SwStrk%: +0.76%
- Hard%: -30.53%
These numbers lead you to this conclusion: Judge is getting fewer pitches in the zone (Zone% is about six points lower), so instead of whiffing or taking the walk (which he still is at a high clip), he’s just taking what the pitcher gives him. He is getting hammered low and away...
...but he is not only swinging at those pitches at a higher rate than last season...
...he is also creating value on those pitches at a higher rate:
The last one is an odd graph. While it’s still a very small sample as always, it’s still strange that the new zone pitchers might target is up-and-away. Considering how well that approach worked with Giancarlo Stanton, you might see pitchers have to adjust as Judge brings his barrel lower.
There are of course a number of caveats. First among them is that you can’t just leave out the injured seasons as a separate entity from the full sample and extrapolate, and that’s generally correct. There would probably be some regression to the mean, I’m sure, and you can never count out the possibility that he gets injured in the future.
Yet if you imagine the world where he stays consistently healthy, this is truly a special occurrence. Having a stretch where he produces at a Ruthian level with an Isolated Power that Ruth himself didn’t see below it until 1935 is in fact very remarkable. Not only can Judge play defense, and hit the famed home runs, but he might also be the best overall hitter in the sport.