Aaron Judge is not going to win the AL MVP this season. Aaron Judge will not hit 60 home runs, or even 50. That being said, over a shorter sample size due to a nagging toe injury, Judge has still showcased why he was able to do what he did last season.
Surpassing 30 home runs before even reaching 300 at-bats, Judge has been phenomenal. He just so happened to not be on the field for a full season, thanks to the interference of the Dodgers’ bullpen fence.
With that in mind, we decided to go back across the last 20 years to find similar situations in which a player—star or otherwise—put up great numbers on a limited sample, whatever the reason for it. We wanted players who were up for more than a month but still fell short of 110 games or innings.
Please don’t hesitate to let us know which was your favorite choice, and if there are any players who deserved a spot on this list that you think we might have missed.
Disclaimer: With all due respect to 2007 Joba Chamberlain and company, relievers won’t be a part of the pool under consideration. Anything that isn’t a full season for them just doesn’t really pop the same way.
2005 – Aaron Small: 10-0, 3.20 ERA, 15 appearances (9 GS), 76 IP
Happy Friday, here are Aaron Small 2005 highlights pic.twitter.com/9x6dIKZeDr— NY Yankees Throwbacks (@yankeethrowback) December 17, 2021
In a very competitive season that saw the Yankees win the division on tiebreakers after finishing the year with the same record as the Red Sox (95-67), a journeyman arm was the unsung hero who emerged to lead this star-studded roster.
Small won more games than starts he made, pitching both out of the ‘pen and as a starter. On a starting staff whose lowest ERA was that of Randy Johnson (3.79), Small was a pivotal part to that team. Another surprise rotation member, Rockies castoff Shawn Chacon, gets an honorable mention here, but he at least had a somewhat-recent track record.
Small had been in the majors for parts of five seasons between 1994-98 (mostly in Oakland), but over the subsequent five years, he only faced five batters in the majors, recording but a single out. The closest he came to relevance involved seven games with the 2004 Marlins. And yet, the right-hander came out of nowhere to take advantage of an open spot in an injury-riddled Yankees rotation in July and never looked back.
Small would come back for another season in 2006, his last one, in which he regressed to the numbers that made him a Quad-A arm.
2012 - Andy Pettitte: 5-4, 2.87 ERA, 12 GS, 75.1 IP
Like many great players, Pettitte struggled with the decision to retire, and after doing so at the end of 2010, he joined the Yankees as an instructor in spring training 2012. Being around the players gave him the itch to throw and see if he had anything left. As it turned out, he did, and in one of the most wonderful surprises ever seen on Yankees Twitter, Jack Curry of the YES Network announced the iconic lefty’s return.
Since he signed late, Pettitte took longer to fully build himself up to take the mound and didn’t debut until May 13th. After he did so, however, he pitched about as well as ever. The veteran southpaw had a 148 ERA+ with his best WHIP (1.142) since 2005.
Unfortunately for Pettitte, the veteran southpaw’s season was derailed by a vicious liner from Cleveland’s Casey Kotchman on June 27th. It broke his leg, keeping him on the shelf until September 19th. He was at least able to tune up for the postseason, in which he was steady as ever with a 3.29 ERA in 13.2 innings against Baltimore and Detroit.
The regular season sample size is limited, but this is still one of the better seasons by a player in his forties in the last couple of decades. It was so good that it convinced Pettitte to come back for one more year in 2013, in which he was still quite solid as a 41-year-old.
2016 - Gary Sánchez: .299/.376/.657 - 20 HR - 53 G
The 2016 version of this team was not one to remember as it ended up selling at the deadline. With 84 wins, it had its worst record since 1995 and still stands as the 30-year low, though we’ll see how many victories the 2023 edition gets.
Unlike Judge, who missed time due to injuries, Sánchez simply didn’t get a clear chance in the bigs before early August that year. Brian McCann, in the middle of a five-year deal, was the primary backstop for this team, putting up a disappointing league-average line. With the club out of contention, the front office decided to give consistent playing time to one of its top prospects, and boy did he respond.
Despite a short sample, Sánchez raked his way into finishing runner-up to the Rookie of The Year award, behind Tigers starter Michael Fulmer.
Sánchez needed only 53 games to reach 20 homers, tying the mark for fastest to 20 bombs in a season, ever. Aided by a .317 BABIP, Sánchez was able to hit for a batting average that he couldn’t match in future years.
Despite making a pair of All-Star Games in the subsequent three seasons (two of which were quite good), Sánchez was never truly able to build on the lofty expectations he set in 2016. But what a glorious run it was!
2019 - Mike Tauchman - .277/.361/.504 - 4.0 bWAR - 87 G
Who can ever forget the greatness displayed by Tauchman in 2019? The journeyman outfielder came out of nowhere—yes, Coors Field still counts as essentially nowhere—to play at an MVP pace by legitimately being a five-tool player. 2019 was the year of #NextManUp with other random contributors like Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin, and more, but Tauchman took the cake in his own way.
Speed wasn’t a significant part of his game, as he stole six of six in a little over half a season. However, beyond his excellent bat that year, Tauchman also delivered elite-level defense, sitting with a 95th percentile OAA in CF, and talked 32 extra-base hits in 260 at-bats.
A September calf injury sadly forced Tauchman out of the playoff picture, and the Yankees’ quest for a pennant fell short. In the following two years, Tauchman received plenty of opportunities based on what he showed in 2019, but could never come close to replicating anything near what he did, not even decent numbers.
That being said, this successful season is still paying dividends to the current team. It probably played a role—even if partially—in the Giants trading lefty Wandy Peralta for him in 2021. And credit to Tauchman, as after spending last year abroad in the KBO, he’s returned to post a very nice season with the contending Cubs.
2020 - DJ LeMahieu: .364/.421/.590 - 178 OPS+ - 50 G
Luke Voit: .277/.338/.610 - 22 HR - 56 G
Both of these players played full seasons as this was all that was available for the COVID-shortened 2020. However, each of them had such outlier stat lines in comparison with the rest of their careers, one can’t help but ponder what they could’ve accomplished across 150 games or so.
Voit led all of baseball in homers with 22, and finished in the top 10 for MVP voting. LeMahieu also built on what was already a formidable 2019 to put legitimate MVP numbers, finishing third in the voting, and parlaying that into a long-term deal with the Yankees. DJ led the league in average, on-base percentage, and OPS.
2022 Matt Carpenter - .305/.412/.727 - 15 HR - 47 G
One of the unspoken truths of baseball is that almost anyone good enough to be a big leaguer is also capable of going on a rampage for a month, a month, and a half. And this run may happen regardless of any tangible change that may affect that player’s outlook.
With that in mind, in the context of hot stretches, Matt Carpenter took things to a whole new level last season. Excellent players will go their entire career without having a 50-game stretch as dominant as that of Carp last season.
After a .671 OPS across his final three seasons in St. Louis, Carpenter’s once-splendid career appeared to be over, but he kept on grinding with minor league deals and eventually got the call with the Yanks. Across a similar sample, no player put up as high of a wRC+ (217) as Carpenter did in 2022, since the days of Barry Bonds in the early 2000s.
Unfortunately, Carpenter’s season was severely cut short by a foot fracture in early August, and he wasn’t the same when he came back for the doomed playoffs. It was enough for him to parlay it into a guaranteed deal with the Padres in 2023 (which he hasn't been able to live up to), but the Summer of Carp was one to remember.