The Yankees have assembled a fantastic roster that is ready to compete with any team in 2020. The primary goal is to win the World Series for the 28th time, and anything less than that will likely be viewed as a disappointment.
To reach the final destination, the Bombers need their best player to come through. And that player is Aaron Judge.
DJ LeMahieu just posted the team’s highest fWAR of 2019 with 5.4. Gerrit Cole had a 7.4 mark with the Houston Astros and figures to contribute something in that neighborhood in his first year.
The Yankees are such a good team that they can probably keep themselves afloat in the hypothetical case Judge gets injured for a somewhat prolonged period of time. But to get past the Championship Series and to lift the World Series trophy, they need their starting right fielder healthy and locked in.
With Mike Tauchman, Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton, Clint Frazier and eventually Aaron Hicks, the Yankees are very deep in the outfield. However, Judge’s name will certainly be in the lineup card almost every day, except for an occasional rest night. He missed two months with a left oblique strain in 2019, and yet, he managed to finish the season with a .272/.381/.540 line with 27 home runs, 75 runs, 55 RBI, and a .921 OPS.
Oblique injuries are tricky and especially painful, but Judge still showed why he is the most talented player on the Yankees roster with positive contributions on offense (23.7 offensive runs above average) fielding (7.6 defensive runs above average) and even on the basepaths (0.4 base running runs.) He had 4.6 fWAR in just 102 games.
Judge may quite possibly be a true-talent 6-plus-WAR player, but there is a sense that he has the potential for more. In 2017, his best year, he recorded a negative value on defense. A year later he rated five runs above average in 112 games, as his defense started to improve according to the numbers.
Nowadays, he is not just a good defender in right field: he is among the best in the league, and the numbers back it up.
Judge is such an underrated defender that the fact that he led all right fielders in the majors with a minimum of 750 innings in defensive runs above average (DEF) with 8.7 usually goes unnoticed.
Among right fielders with at least 750 frames, he had the highest UZR/150 at 24.2 and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) with 19, tied with Cody Bellinger. He also has a cannon for an arm, an absolute asset in right field.
Judge’s postseason play, despite a huge strike zone that affects him year after year and some whispers of frustrated fans, hasn’t been too different from his regular season performance. In October, he has a .257/.375/.535 line with a .910 OPS (121 plate appearances) compared to a .273/.394/.558 line and a .952 OPS from March to September (1718 plate appearances.)
Year after year, he is the recipient of some ugly called strikes in the low-and-away zone. And yet, he has managed to adjust to that, somewhat. Postseason baseball is so random that there isn’t much Judge can do besides take good at-bats, lay off the garbage, and take advantage of the best pitch to hit. If he manages to do that, the Yankees will be well-positioned to succeed behind their best player.
It is remarkable to think how good Judge can be if health finally comes on his side. He has missed significant portions of each of his last two years. Judge’s contributions will be vital for the Yankees’ postseason runs in the next few years. He is the single most important player on the biggest and most popular team.
Here is hoping he stays healthy for the whole year. With full at-bats, his outstanding improvements with the glove, and at least a couple of seasons of his prime ahead, could he have a 10-WAR season in him? Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to know for sure.