More ink has been spilled about Aaron Judge in his six seasons of play than perhaps any Yankee this century, save Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. You all know his story, what he did last year, and how the winter unfolded. He was the best player in baseball and put up the best offensive season by a player not named Barry Bonds in nearly 60 years. He enters 2023 with a shiny new contract and the captaincy ... so what’s to come?
2022 Yankees Statistics: 157 games played, 696 plate appearances, .311/.425/.686, 62 HR, 131 RBI, 207 wRC+, 25.1 K%, 15.9 BB%, 11.4 fWAR
2023 ZiPS Projections: 148 games played, 643 plate appearances, .280/.386/.578, 46 HR, 120 RBI, 171 wRC+, 26.1 K%, 14.2 BB%, 8.0 fWAR
Projections are a median outcome, where 50 percent of simulations had the player eclipsing the public line. Just for fun, let’s say Judge plays to exactly his ZiPS line — in 2022 he would have finished:
28th in average
7th in OBP
4th in SLG
2nd in HR
4th in wRC+
2nd in fWAR
Aaron Judge’s median reasonable outcome, if he stays healthy, makes him an MVP finalist. If he surpasses that projection, the only thing stopping him from winning a second straight MVP is whatever Shohei Ohtani does.
On that note of health, it’s still a popular meme online to say that Judge is made of glass, that he’s injury prone, but I don’t think he or the Yankees get the credit they deserve for keeping him on the field lately:
What is injury-prone anyway? Is it getting hit on the wrist by a fastball, an occupational hazard of taking at-bats? Is it two years of soft tissue problems?
If you felt that Judge was injury-prone coming into 2021, after only playing about 50 percent of the Yankees’ games in the two previous seasons, I don’t think anyone would have disagreed with you. But after two seasons of consistent health, playing in 94 percent of games, do we ditch the label?
As long as he’s on the field, Aaron Judge will be one of the three or so best players in the game. His advancement as a hitter is remarkable — once thought off as Ryan Howard in Right Field, he’s steadily controlled his strikeouts and nearly won a batting title in 2022. Even in spring training he’s cut down on his load to be quicker to the ball with two strikes:
A good look at Aaron Judge with one strike versus his two strike approach.— Michael Schlact (@michael_schlact) March 8, 2023
What do you see?
Now, for the tough love part. Aaron Judge probably isn’t going to have an 11.5 win season again. He’s probably not going to hit 60+ home runs again. There will be some people who look at a .964 OPS, see it as a step down from a 1.111 mark and immediately conclude that Judge is overpaid.
As long as he’s on the field, it’s going to be awful tough for Judge not to live up to his contract and the burden of captaincy, even if it’s going to be equally tough for him to reproduce his 2022 output. He can exist in that space, simply as one of the very best players in the game.