Rookie of the Year, AL home run king, and now MVP. After breaking Roger Maris’ 61-year-old AL home run record and compiling an offensive campaign unseen since the days of Barry Bonds, Aaron Judge has finally won his first MVP. He also did it in emphatic fashion, picking up 28 of the 30 possible first-place votes. The defending MVP, Shohei Ohtani, earned the other two top nods, but Judge reigns supreme as the best player in 2022.
Judge certainly had a worthy adversary in Ohtani, who became the first player in almost 150 years to lead his team in both innings pitched and plate appearances. In any other season, Ohtani’s 9.2 fWAR would’ve comfortably led MLB. There’s really no precedent for what Ohtani’s doing. He graded out as a top-five pitcher in all of baseball (third in FIP, sixth in fWAR), and placed in the top-20 of hitters with a 142 wRC+. He went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA and 219 strikeouts on the mound and slashed .273/.356/.519 with 34 home runs and 95 RBI at the plate — both good enough for AL Cy Young (where he finished fourth in the voting) and MVP consideration in their own right.
However, there was to be no denying Judge this year. He led baseball in practically every offensive category, slashing .311/.425/.686 with the record-breaking 62 home runs and 131 RBI, falling just five points of batting average shy of the Triple Crown. His 207 wRC+ ties Ted Williams’ marks in 1947 and 1954 for the 20th-highest wRC+ in a single-season ever while his 11.4 fWAR is the most wins in a season since Bonds’ 11.9 wins in 2004 and ties with Mickey Mantle’s MVP-winning 1957 campaign for the 17th-best season in MLB history.
There are endless ways to describe how far Judge towered over the field this season. Judge’s 62 home runs were 16 more than second-place finisher Kyle Schwarber, the widest such gap since Jimmie Foxx finished with 17 more than Babe Ruth in 1932. His 11.4 fWAR ranked 2.2 wins more than Ohtani — no player has finished more than two wins above their nearest challenger since Barry Bonds bested Adrian Beltré by 2.2 wins in 2004. And given the level of pitching that Judge faced, a strong case could be made that we just witnessed the greatest offensive performance in history.
The award has been a long time coming for Judge. He finished second in AL MVP voting in 2017, pipped to the award by Jose Altuve in a year where the accomplishments of every offensive player on that cheating Astros squad sits under the shadow of illegitimacy. Judge unanimously won AL Rookie of the Year that season after breaking the single-season rookie home run record by sending 52 long balls out of the park.
It’s fitting that Judge should win MVP in a year when he broke one of the most hallowed records in Yankee and AL history. There was almost a feeling of fate surrounding Judge’s pursuit of Maris’ record given the coincidental numbers attached to it (61st anniversary season of Maris’ 61 home runs hit in 1961).
It’s the first time a Yankee has won the award since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. New York is now responsible for taking home 21 MVP awards since the BBWAA started determining the winner in 1931. Judge joins Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Spud Chandler, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, and the aforementioned A-Rod as the 13th different Yankee to do so.
Of course, Judge is no longer a Yankee, hitting the free agent market on the heels of the greatest walk year since the start of MLB free agency. He is the gem of this year’s class and has the potential to sign a record-breaking contract. His earning potential skyrocketed upon becoming the Yankees’ and AL’s single-season home run king, and now he can further boost his credentials by adding AL MVP to his sparkling résumé.