During a season in which the Yankees completed an impressive first half, got 99 wins and reached the 2022 ALCS, it’s fair to say that they had some impressive individual performances. Anthony Rizzo had a 132 wRC+ with 32 home runs, Gleyber Torres bounced back, Nestor Cortes confirmed his 2021 breakout, Gerrit Cole pitched 200.2 frames with a franchise record 257 strikeouts, and Jose Trevino was MLB’s premier framer.
However, as good as those players were, they didn’t come close to what Aaron Judge did for the Yankees. He was, without a doubt, the Yankees’ MVP in the 2022 MLB season. Unlike with our “LVP,” no one else even has a case to be in the conversation.
Judge wasn’t only the Yankees’ best player; he was MLB’s most valuable performer. His 11.5 fWAR was on a tier of his own: the second-ranked position player in the league, Manny Machado, had 7.4. There is a Matt Chapman-sized gap (4.1 WAR) between Judge and the rest of the pack.
Even considering Shohei Ohtani’s historic contributions as a hitter and a pitcher and accounting he occupies only one roster spot while performing both activities, Judge should be considered the league’s MVP.
Speaking exclusively about the Yankees, though, nobody came close to what Judge did in 2022. He had one of the very best campaigns in the history of the storied franchise and took down Roger Maris’ old American League record of most home runs in a single season. With his 62 blasts, No. 99 surpassed No. 9’s mark by one:
The difference between Judge’s wRC+ (207) and the No. 2 player on the team (Rizzo, at 132) was extremely large. Not only his power was impressive; the Yankees’ star outfielder showed that he can also hit for average, slashing .311/.425/.686 with 133 runs, 131 RBI, and even 16 stolen bases. He challenged for the AL’s Triple Crown until the very last week — finishing just five points behind batting champion Luis Arraez of the Twins.
What Judge did for the Yankees with the glove was also impressive. Regularly a right fielder, Judge played 632.2 innings as a center fielder and rated positively, with 1 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 1 OAA (Outs Above Average). With Aaron Hicks underwhelming, manager Aaron Boone needed Stanton out there to cover the position and help him get both Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Carpenter into the lineup. ALCS notwithstanding, it was a smashing success.
Some people would like to cite Judge’s playoff performance as a way to question his unofficial designation as the team MVP, but there is no universe in which 9 games have more weight than 157. Yes, they are the nine most important games of the campaign, but it’s too small of a sample size to overshadow Judge’s historic regular season run.
In the playoffs, Judge started off on the wrong foot, going 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts in the first two games against the Cleveland Guardians. He was a bit better after that, but still finished with a highly disappointing .490 OPS, 2 homers, and 15 strikeouts.
Having said that, teams won’t be focusing on Judge’s October struggles in free agency (particularly since he carried an .843 playoff OPS in 35 games until this year). They will be focusing on his remarkable 62 home runs, his .425 OBP, his almost-.700 slugging percentage, his ability to play a competent center field, and his silent leadership skills when they negotiate with him.
Judge is now free to talk to any organization as a free agent. He rejected $230 million over eight years before the year, betting on himself and shooting for more after the World Series. That bet surely paid off, and his contract will almost certainly start with a three instead of a two.
If the Yankees want to design a plan to return to the true elite of MLB, they have to start by re-signing Judge. There is no way they can expect to win the AL East with ease again if they see how another team gets his services for the long term. (We’ll have more on that as the offseason progresses, of course.)
Judge is the future captain of the Yanks – said by his teammates, not by us – if the organization doesn’t screw things up. The 2022 Yankees MVP will show his teammates the way to redemption if given the chance.