The legacy of Aaron Judge’s 2022 is just beginning. It’s going to be popping up on leaderboards and infographics for a long time to come. I doubt any of us will get tired of seeing it.
Browsing FanGraphs recently, I took a look at the “Win Probability” section of their hitting leaderboard for the first time in many months. WPA is pretty well-correlated with the offensive component of WAR, but it can also be a measure of how well-timed a hitter’s production was: in some contexts, it’s fair to value clutch performances over racking up stats in low-pressure circumstances. Anyway, I don’t know what I else I expected to see, but when I pulled up the page, Aaron Judge’s name automatically sorted to the top of the leaderboard with a 7.71 cumulative WPA, nearly 2.5 clear of Yordan Alvarez in second place.
FanGraphs only has win probability numbers dating back to 1974, but Baseball Reference’s data goes back to the early 20th century, so heading over there to check their own WPA numbers was the next move. They were even kinder to Judge, awarding him 8.1 WPA for 2022, an even three clear of Alvarez again in second place. Those extra few points make a difference: FanGraphs’ 7.71 is just the 19th-highest in their time tracking the stat, with names like Chris Davis and José Bautista eclipsing him at their MVP-caliber peaks. His 8.1 mark at BBRef, however, is the highest since Ryan Howard (8.2) and Albert Pujols (9.4) got there in 2006.
It’s also the highest the Yankees have seen in over a half-century: Mickey Mantle’s 1961 was the last season to beat it. For a franchise that’s had memorable offensive performances as a matter of course for more than a hundred years, Judge’s 2022 stands in rarified air. It’s just about the only name anywhere near the top of the Yankees’ single-season WPA leaderboard that you could have watched easily on color TV:
Imagine being solidly in the middle of an offensive leaderboard that Alex Rodríguez’s 2007 — the second-best season of a 110+ WAR career — barely sneaks on.
Historical awe aside, it’s also cool to get a picture of Judge’s dominance by virtue of seeing how he makes chump change of some of the best Yankees offensive seasons in recent memory.
Clearing A-Rod by that much is an accomplishment in itself, because that 2007 season was a sight to behold. Like Judge, he easily took the home run and RBI legs of the Triple Crown, though unlike the big man, his .317 batting average was nowhere near league-leader Magglio Ordoñez’s .363. Still, it was the first 50-homer season for a Yankee since Mantle and Maris’s 1961 duel, and nobody’s come within single-digits of his 156 RBI since then. One can only imagine how many runs Judge might have plated if he had Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui hitting in front of him,
Moving down the list, hey, it’s Bobby Murcer! Picture 1971 in Yankees fandom: it’s been seven years since your last World Series, easily the longest drought of the live-ball era. You’ve finished 20+ games back of first place for the fifth time in the last six seasons. There’s not a lot to look forward to, but there is one silver lining: the heir-apparent to Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio’s legacy in center field has arrived in the form of Bobby Murcer’s .331/.427/.543 line, good for a league-best 181 OPS+. That’s about as good as it got — he never again cracked a .900 OPS — but for a couple years there, Murcer was coming up with big hits as well as anyone in the league.
Funnily enough, Murcer didn’t even lead the 1971 Yankees in WAR. That honor belonged to Roy White, who outproduced him 6.7 to 6.5 in his second consecutive MVP-caliber campaign. The 1970 output that got him on this list was even better, when the longtime solid outfielder scattered career highs across the board with 22 homers, 30 doubles, 24 steals, 94 RBI, and a .296 average alongside stellar outfield play. Only six players have played more games in a Yankees uniform than White, who formed one of the game’s best outfield duos with Murcer between 1970-72, in spite of the team’s difficulties in the win column.
Not even in the same realm as Judge are two of Derek Jeter’s greatest seasons, with his all-time 1999 effort (8.0 WAR and career highs in just about every power category imaginable) just edging out the slightly lesser 2006 campaign that fell just three first place votes shy of an MVP award — a finish no doubt fueled by a season full of WPA-boosting key hits.
Rickey Henderson’s 1988 is an odd inclusion. By most measures, ‘88 was the worst of the four full seasons Rickey spent in pinstripes, but it included one of the highest WPA figures the Yankees have seen in recent memory. His power completely evaporated, hitting just six dingers after putting one out roughly once every 20 at-bats over the previous three years. On the other hand, it was also the best year of his career for stolen base efficiency, succeeding in 93 of his 106 attempts. In terms of pure value, a few extra steals doesn’t replace what one loses by dropping 20 homers from their baseball card, but if they pick their spots right, it’s not outlandish to think they might be able to help their team win in a way that resembles the role of a more dominant slugger.
If it’s Rickey, it’s weird. Long live Rickey! And long live the legacy of Judge’s 2022 contributions to 99 Yankees wins, and all the record book entries therein.