It’s so hard to try and order players in some kind of ranking. Whether Ronald Acuña Jr.’s rather violent blend of power and speed makes him more valuable than Juan Soto’s ownership of the batter’s box is a fun debate, but any attempt at an ordinal ranking is too subjective and, honestly, not that fun.
But if you did want to rank guys, and wanted to do so by fWAR, you might find that entering play on Sunday, Aaron Judge was the fifth-best player in baseball so far this season, effectively tied with the likes of José Ramírez and Mike Trout. Simply prorating his current line over 650 plate appearances would render a 58 homer, 10-win season. Now, I’m skeptical he’ll be quite that good but, what if he was?
At the start of the season, PECOTA’s 99th-percentile projection for Judge was a seven-win, 1.035 OPS player, with the system dinging him for defense but regarding him as a truly elite offensive talent at his absolute best. ZiPS has updated its projections for Judge based on his sterling April, now pegging him for a 6.5-win season as a median outcome. We don’t get percentile buckets for public-facing ZiPS, but we can be pretty confident that that 99th percentile is above what PECOTA had at the start of the year.
And then of course there’s what we’ve already seen from Judge at his best. His 2017 was a near nine-win season, and while he may not be quite as good a fielder five years on, he’s hitting better in 2022 than he was in that sterling rookie campaign. How long that keeps up is anyone’s guess, but even expected regression from a 196 wRC+ gives you a lot of room to finish ahead of his career 152 line.
All of this happening during Judge’s contract year shouldn’t escape notice either. We know that players typically do perform slightly better in their walk season, though we don’t really know whether that’s caused by some sort of internal motivation or simply due to players being near their physical peaks right around the same time that team control lapses. There was so much discussion around Judge not being extended by the Yankees, even though they made a very real offer to him in the spring, but so far he appears to be betting on himself and winning.
So what do we have after one of the best months of Judge’s career?
If No. 99 keeps up this pace, he’s a 10-ish win player and that likely gives him his first career AL MVP, ahead of what will be one of the more interesting free agent cases in some time. I don’t think that his current pace is going to hold up, just because players don’t typically hit to a 200 wRC+ mark for 162 games.
That said, Judge certainly looks as good as any time we’ve seen him at the plate, and although he’s not walking at the rate we might expect, he’s hitting for more power than ever before — even greater than in his 52-homer campaign. I expect that those two metrics will return closer to his baseline, but barring injury or some Space Jam-esque talent drain, I don’t know how we can’t at least expect a similar line to his 2017 season. His projections improving reflect that his underlying performance isn’t a mirage, even if it doesn’t quite hold up all year.