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Aaron Judge is somehow beating expectations

Aaron Judge has had a tremendous start, ranking well against past Yankees, MVPs, and his own past performances.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Aaron Judge is having himself quite the start to 2022, if you hadn’t noticed. He’s finding himself at or near the top of loads of offensive leaderboards, and in the midst, has settled any possible lingering debate about him being one of baseball’s greatest talents. Not only has he been among the best players this season, his hot start ranks well in recent history, with past Yankee seasons, MVP winners, and perhaps most notably, his own past performances.

The Yankees’ slugger has a healthy lead in the home run department, swatting 18 thus far, four ahead of Mookie Betts’ 14. This impressive total has also led to league-leading figures in slugging and ISO for Judge, sitting at .669 and .360, respectively. This also shows how Judge has relied on his power even more than in years past, with his OBP and walk rates well below his career marks. In the bigger picture, Judge has the second-best wRC+ in the sport at 198, and is top five in fWAR.

Not only has the outfielder had one of the best starts of any player in 2022, he’s had one of the best in recent Yankees memory as well. Through the end of May, Judge’s aforementioned 198 wRC+ is the highest such mark of any Yankee since 2002. His 18 home runs are also the second highest total in that span as well, sandwiched between Alex Rodriguez’s two MVP seasons in pinstripes. It had already been well established that Aaron Judge is one of the best Yankee players in recent memory, and he’s adding some of his best work to that resume in 2022.

The significance of Judge’s start does not stop with recent Yankee history, either. The combination of his home run total, 18, and his 198 wRC+ has only been matched seven times since 2002. The list also includes three MVP winners, and scalding starts to career years from Josh Hamilton, José Bautista, and Chris Davis (back in the good ol’ days!).

I’d argue, even given those impressive accomplishments thus far, that the most significant one Judge has reached is in relation to the expectations and standards he has set in his career to this point. His 2017 season was, of course, incredible. It was one of the best ever by a rookie, but within that fact there was almost something a little disappointing. Given how great that performance was, it was probably a fairly safe assumption that we had already seen the best Judge had to offer. But perhaps his performance so far in 2022 is showing us that may not be the case, or that he is at least capable of reaching those dizzying heights again.

In fact, there’s a good argument to be made that he is off to an even better start this year than he was in 2017. The differences are slight, but when you consider how fantastic that season was, that is still incredibly impressive. He has one more home run, and a slightly higher wRC+ at this point than he did in 2017. This is made even more startling when considering the way overall offense around the league has dipped for much of this season. And, although it does not tell a complete story, there is something satisfying about huge home run totals in a season. Even though flat projecting forward is a dangerous game, sitting at 18 long balls less than a third of the way through the season puts Judge in a good position to put up an eye-catching number.

Aaron Judge has had an unforgettable start to the 2022 season, enough so to put him with some of the best players and seasons in recent memory. On top of that, he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. The Yankees have one of the very best players in baseball in Judge, he’s only solidifying that through the first few months of this season. Not only is he putting himself with some of the game’s best, he’s meeting, if not exceeding the impossibly high standards he has set in the past.