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The Judge-Stanton duo has been even better than we thought

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Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton finally stayed healthy and produced for a full year. The results have been spectacular.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

When Giancarlo Stanton arrived in New York, there were two predominant streams of thought: (1) He and Aaron Judge were going to be the most entertaining duo in the entire league; or (2) He and Judge represented too much of the same thing.

For the past three years, neither of those things were necessarily true because Judge and Stanton both had a tough time staying on the field at the same time. In fact, the closest they got was their first season together in 2018, when Stanton played in 158 games and Judge played in 112. When they’ve played together, it’s been beyond entertaining to see them mashing in the heart of the order, but the truth of the matter is that they simply hadn’t played nearly enough.

This year, however, has been different, as they’ve both stayed more or less healthy for the entire season. And what a year it’s been for the two sluggers:

Fangraphs

Judge and Stanton have been the two most consistent hitters on this team. Plugged into the heart of the lineup on a nightly basis, the power-hitting duo has combined to hit 72 home runs and both are on pace to drive in 100 runs. Additionally, their OPS+, wOBA, and wRC+ are all nearly identical, and all three categories indicate a level of production that is well above league average.

The interesting thing to note here, though, is Judge’s strikeout rate. When Stanton was traded to New York, the criticism was that, while the two would surely hit a ton of glorious-looking home runs, they struck out too much to be truly productive. In essence, they were too much of the same thing. This season, however, Judge and Stanton have proven that there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. More on this in just a second.

Here’s a quick look at the duo’s rolling xwOBA first:

Baseball Savant
Baseball Savant

Judge’s graph is a work of art. The two slight dips below league average lasted for two and four days respectively. The rest of the time, Judge’s xwOBA has been well above average, which has contributed to his best all-around season since 2017.

As is evident from Stanton’s line, the only factor standing between him and an MVP-like season was a three-week period from the middle of July to early August when he was totally lost at the plate. Once he got his timing back, however, he became — right alongside Judge — one of the most consistent hitters in the entire league for the second half of the season.

Okay, so how does their xwOBA relate to Judge’s year-over-year strikeout rate? Let’s take a look:

Baseball Savant

There was a prevailing theory early in the season — and one that I initially shared as well — that Judge had sacrificed some power for a new approach at the plate focused on cutting down on strikeouts, thus affecting his overall production. It quickly became clear that this theory didn’t hold up to scrutiny, as Judge’s production continued to remain consistent all season long despite his continued drop in strikeouts.

Digging into the data a bit more, a perhaps-unseen benefit to Judge’s new approach emerged. Stanton can be a frustrating hitter in the sense that he’s seemingly prone to one stretch per year where he loses his mechanics and timing at the plate, and as a result, appears totally lost. During these stretches, he strikes out a lot and generally looks really ugly at the plate. For proof, see the aforementioned three-week stretch in July and August.

Take a look at Judge’s xwOBA during Stanton’s rough stretch: It marked his second-best stretch this year. Coincidentally, his strikeout rate during that stretch plummeted to a low of 19.7 percent in July and hovered in the low-20s for the same three-week period that Stanton slumped. By cutting down his strikeout rate and focusing on a more complete approach at the plate, this essentially ensured that at least one of Judge or Stanton would be a consistent contributor at the plate at all times this season. Somehow, this excellent duo figured out a way to get even better than it already was, and it’s been on display all season long.

As noted in the beginning, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Judge and Stanton’s lines are eerily similar, and both excellent. From an offensive standpoint, they are the only two hitters in the Yankees’ lineup who have consistently produced on a nightly basis in 2021. This is the exact type of season that Yankees fans were dreaming of when the team made the move for Stanton in December 2017. With just four games remaining, I don’t even want to begin to think about where this team would be without the production of this truly dynamic duo.