By the end of the 2017 MLB season there were three guarantees in life: Death, taxes and Aaron Judge winning the AL Rookie of the Year.
Judge displayed physicality at a level that baseball fans haven’t seen in a long time, hitting line drive shots out of the park at exit velocities that should only be seen in a video game. While there’s plenty to be said of a player whose physique is more reminiscent of a silverback gorilla than a 25-year-old man, I’ll let his season stats do the talking.
Judge ended his year with 52 homeruns, breaking Mark McGwire’s 1987 rookie record of 49 in a single season. To put that in context, 2017 NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger made waves by hitting 39 homeruns this season, the third most by a rookie in history, yet 13 less than Judge.
While homeruns are something to be admired, to the delight of Yankees management, Judge performed in the regular season when it mattered most. 30 of his 52 homeruns were against teams in the same division. He combined for a .350 batting average in 49 games against the Orioles and Blue Jays while driving-in 46 runs. Games at the Rogers Centre felt like home affairs as Judge demolished the Blue Birds with a .294/.467/.765 stat line. It begs the question whether or not MVP was also up for grabs for the Yankees’ right fielder. Judge hit .385/.521/1.115 with 11 home runs and 24 RBI in his last 16 games of the season. He finished behind only Mike Trout in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS while leading the American League in wins above replacement.
These numbers came in a season when Judge slumped after the All-Star break, where he won the Home Run Derby. There was a 55-game stretch in which he hit .185 and added to his season total of 208 strikeouts. That was the most in the major leagues and 124 more than the eventual AL MVP, Jose Altuve.
Despite the massive amount of strikeouts, Judge’s on-base percentage never took much of a hit thanks to his 127 walks. Judge reached base safely 286 times, the second most by a rookie behind only Kevin Seitzer, who did it 289 times with the 1987 Kansas City Royals (Elias Sports Bureau). In other words, he was a proven difference maker on even his worst of days. And that’s all you can ask for from a franchise player.
Aaron Judge has all but cemented himself as the new face of the New York Yankees. Introducing a “swing for the fences” mentality in a year that saw 4,458 homeruns, the most in history. While he fell short of league MVP, Rookie of the Year was inevitable. And if he keeps playing at the pace he’s at now, there’s plenty more for the Bronx faithful to look forward to.