Many questions surround Aaron Judge heading into the 2022 season. As an upper-echelon MLB player who’ll be a free agent at season’s end, will the Yankees and he come to an agreement on an extension, or will he test the free-agent waters? Also, as great as Judge has been on the field since his 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign, can he be relied upon to stay healthy on a consistent and long-term basis?
Thankfully for the Yankees and their fans, what is not in question is Judge’s status as one of the best players in baseball.
2022 Stats: 633 PA, 39 HR, 98 RBI, .287/.373/.544, 149 OPS+, 5.5 fWAR, All-Star, Silver Slugger
2022 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projection: 630 PA, .275/.369/.535, .381 wOBA, 5.7 fWAR
Even though you likely don’t need to be reminded, the above shows us that Aaron Judge had a great season for the Yankees in 2021. By pretty much any way to measure a player’s performance, he was one of the best 10 players in baseball last season, finishing in MLB’s top 10 in WARP, fWAR, wRC+, OPS+, and long balls.
Judge’s numbers weren’t exactly a fluke or the result of good luck either, as he ranked in the 98th percentile or higher in MLB in xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA. That’s not surprising considering he ranked at the 100th percentile in average exit velocity, maximum exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage — the man simply spent 2021 hitting baseballs very hard and very consistently.
Over the course of a five-season sample size, Judge’s performance in 2021 wasn’t an aberration either. Among players with at least 2,000 PAs since 2017, only Mike Trout and Juan Soto have posted a better OPS+ than Judge’s 154, and only Trout and Mookie Betts have surpassed Judge’s 26.7 bWAR over that same span. It almost begs the question — remarkable given he plays in New York and he’s universally liked — is Aaron Judge underrated?
Regardless, the above is an interesting segue into a common question and area of concern that continually hounds Judge — can he be relied upon to stay healthy? The above illustrates an important part of this discussion is that isn’t brought up enough: even though he’s gone through stretches with multiple injuries and poor luck, he’s still produced more value than every player besides Trout and Betts since 2017.
Even if you’re a skeptic and want to say that those 2017 and 2021 seasons when he stayed healthy were the exceptions and that the oft-injured Judge of 2018 through 2020 is the real Judge, consider this — His 12.6 bWAR from 2018 through 2020 when he only played in 242 games combined is the 15th highest total in MLB and third among corner outfielders over that span. Even when Judge has been bitten by the injury bug, he’s still produced value at an extremely high level. (That said, as I’ve written on PSA pages previously here and here, there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern about Judge’s injury history anyway.)
None of us have crystal balls, so even though the Yankees have a good history of keeping fan favorites in pinstripes long term, how the contract situation resolves itself remains to be seen. Similarly, even though I’m not any more concerned about Judge’s injury potential than other Yankees, there’s an element of randomness involved that makes even educated guesses, just guesses in that regard.
What’s not in question is that Aaron Judge is a great player, he’s the Yankees’ right fielder, and it’s far more likely than not we’ll be yelling “All Rise” quite often in 2022. Now if he can just be less cagey about vaccine questions and his ability to play in New York or Toronto, we won’t have anything to worry about.