At one point Aaron Judge was the favorite for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, then the rest of the season happened. By the end of the first half, Judge was hitting 329/.448/.691 with 30 home runs. Everything has seemingly fallen apart since then, but that’s ok.
At one point in the 2017 season, Judge led all of baseball in offense. He had the most home runs, the highest WAR, and he even had the triple crown for a little while there. It was the kind of season that basically never happens in today’s game, and there’s a reason for it.
Baseball is different than it was back in the old days of Babe Ruth putting up astronomical numbers every year. Hell, it’s different than when Barry Bonds was utterly dominating the game in almost every category just 10-15 years ago. Pitchers throw harder, the league is simply better, and not everyone is on steroids, the magical elixir that keeps players healthy for longer. The kind of season Judge was having almost never happens because they are incredibly hard to make happen.
When Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012, it was the first since 1967. Only Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 have ever won the MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. That’s how rare these accomplishments are, and that’s how impossible it was for Aaron Judge to continue his streak into the second half. Yes, Judge’s slump has been frustrating and disappointing at times, but it’s foolish to believe it wasn’t coming.
Since returning from the All-Star break, Judge has only managed to hit .179/.341/.352 with seven home runs, while Jose Altuve has continued a fantastic year himself. What was once believed to be a neck-and-neck race has turned into a victory lap for the Astros second baseman. His batting line of .356/.415/.565 with 20 home runs turn this into a league leading 164 wRC+ and 6.1 WAR season. He leads two of the three categories for the Triple Crown, and is closing in on slugging. He’s also leading baseball in hit for the fourth year in a row. We’re at the point where we can just call the Altuve the 2017 AL MVP already.
As satisfying as it would have been to see the Yankees rule over baseball in some small regard, it’s something out of everyone’s control, because there’s always going to be someone better. It would have been the cherry on top of the Yankees rebuild and a precursor for better days to come. Aaron Judge won’t be the MVP, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be success in the future. It doesn’t even mean there hasn’t been success in the past, either. Considering Alex Rodriguez won the award in 2005 and 2007, the Yankees haven’t even had that big of a drought compared to other fanbases. It’s ok for Judge not to be the MVP in 2017.
Based on his first-half statistics alone, he’s more than earned Rookie of the Year honors. At this point, it’s a two-man race between Judge and Andrew Benitendi, but even at his best, Benitendi has failed to be anywhere as valuable as Judge has been this year. This is the award that has alluded the franchise for so long. No Yankee has won it since Derek Jeter in 1996, making this season a major accomplishment for the franchise. On top of that, he’s likely to win a Silver Slugger as well.
This has been a season far greater than any of us could have ever imagined. It might end on a sour note, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good experience. We saw that Aaron Judge can unlock his home run power. We know he can be a new face of the franchise. He’s already shown us that he can adjust to how he’s being pitched, even if he’s been beat in recent months. Best of all is that he’s going to get his fair share of awards for everything he did this year.
The next step is that he hopefully learns from his second half drought, figures out how to overcome what happened, and makes himself better prepared for the future. A sweep of all the league’s major awards would have been something to see, but that never happens for a reason. Maybe he can end the season on a high note, but no one should be disappointed about how things turned out.