New York Yankees: Aaron Judge is Back on Top of AL MVP Race

If you were to read this headline at any point before the All-Star break you would think, yea, no kidding. If you read it at any point during July or August you would be calling me crazy. Now, here we are in late September with the regular season winding down and the statement rings true again. New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge is the Most Valuable Player in the American League.

What Judge did during the first half of the season was extraordinary. He broke a number of rookie records, amazed the baseball world with his monstrous bombs and helped the Yankees become real contenders in what was supposed to be a transition year. He entered the All-Star break slashing .329/.448/.691 with a MLB-leading 30 homers and 66 RBI. Judge did, well exactly what we expected him to do, and won the Home Run Derby. He made it clear that he was the new face of baseball and a force to be reckoned with.

Then he vanished.

Well, kind of. Everything Judge did before the break came to a screeching halt. From July 14 to August 31, Judge batted .179 with just seven homers and 16 RBI. His season average dropped from .329 to .279.

Everything Judge did before the break came to a screeching halt. From July 14 to August 31, Judge batted .179 with just seven homers and 16 RBI. His season average dropped from .329 to .279. Judge seemed to come down to Earth after a fantasy first half, and doubters were quick to jump on the “one-half-wonder” train.

But it was how Judge handled himself during this stretch that has helped him get to where he is currently. His on-base percentage during that stretch sat at .348 which, according to Fangraphs, is above the league average. He consistently worked his walks, got on base, and helped give the Yankees every opportunity to win games. While he wasn’t the beast he was during the first half, and how could he be, he stayed with it and didn’t let the slump break him.

Now, we’re seeing him break out of the slump in the biggest way possible. Through 22 games in September, Judge is putting together his best month of the entire season. He’s slashing .307/.444/.893 with 13 homers and 26 RBI. His 1.338 on-base plus slugging (OPS) is his highest mark throughout the whole season. With four homers in his last two games, he powered his way to the top of the all-time home run by a rookie list, passing Mark McGwire.

The Yankees have a demanding lead in the AL Wild Card race and Judge’s surge is a huge reason why. He’s slugged his way back into the headlines and straight to the top of AL MVP race. Here’s a look at the top candidates for the award.

Jose Altuve: 8.2 WAR, .348/.414/.554, 24 HR, 81 RBI, 107 R, 32 SB. League leader in hits (199) and average.

Jose Ramirez: 6.5 WAR, .317/.370/.584, 29 HR, 81 RBI, 101 R, 16 SB. League leader in doubles (51) and total bases (329).

Mike Trout: 6.4 WAR, .306/.444/.623, 30 HR, 67 RBI, 88 R, 22 SB. League leader in OBP, SLG, OPS (1.068) and OPS+(186).

Corey Kluber: 7.9 WAR, 18-4, 198.2 IP, 2.27 ERA, 0.861 WHIP. League leader in wins, ERA, complete games (5), shutouts (3), ERA+ (201), WHIP and BB/9 (1.6).   

Chris Sale: 6.3 WAR, 17-7, 209.1 IP, 2.75 ERA, 0.946 WHIP. League leader in innings pitched, strikeouts (300), K/9 (12.9) and FIP (2.21)  

Aaron Judge: 7.6 WAR, .283/.418/.620, 50 HR, 108 RBI, 124 R, 120 BB. League leader in runs, home runs, walks and strikeouts (203).

A case can be made for any one of these players, and any one of them would be deserving. But, let’s take a look at each one of these players one by one.

Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez is following up a breakout year with an even better campaign. He’s especially turned it on over the past two months and was a huge factor in the Indians’ record-setting 22-game winning streak. Since August 24, the Indians are 29-2. Ramirez is batting .415 with 11 homers and 22 RBI over that stretch.

Along with Ramirez, Indians ace, Corey Kluber, has been equally important. He’s been the definition of an ace and gives the Indians a great chance at winning every time he takes the mound. The combination of Kluber and Ramirez, with Francisco Lindor as well, have made the Indians the team to beat in the American League.

Similarly to Kluber, Chris Sale has also drawn some AL MVP talk. The Red Sox’s offseason acquisition has been better than advertised and is a huge reason why they sit atop the AL East. His incredible 300 strikeouts across his 209.1 innings are both best in the Majors. Regardless of where you stand on pitchers winning the MVP award, Sale and Kluber both deserve a look.

Angels outfielder and perennial MVP candidate, Mike Trout, is having another one of those seasons. Despite missing an extended period of time, Trout has still posted a 6.4 WAR, 30 homers and 67 RBI in significantly less time than the other candidates. Trout’s been arguably the best all-around player in baseball (again) when he’s been healthy, but the time he spent on the shelf will likely cost him the award.

Finally, the two leading candidates are Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Judge. Altuve has been the best all-around player in the Majors. His combination of speed, hitting for average and getting on base makes him the most feared hitter at the top of any order. Altuve’s collective contact numbers are the best in the American League, while Judge’s power numbers are as well.

Looking at either of their stats, a case can be made that they’re the clear front-runner. Voters are human and humans have preferences. While some of the old-school voters will look at Altuve and think he’s a no-brainer, voters with newer logic may think differently. Keep in mind that the MVP award is not solely based on statistics but also those statistics plus the narrative of the respected teams.

Without Altuve, would the Astros be as big a powerhouse as they are? The Astros’ team slash line sits at .280/.344/.476 with a .820 OPS. Each one of those stats is the best in the Majors. While Altuve obviously helped get those numbers where they are, take him out and the Astros have still had an incredibly impressive season.

When looking at Judge, think about what he’s done, and when. His record-setting first half turned the Yankees into contenders, encouraging them to be buyers at the deadline. Then the slump hit. Then he came back with a vengeance to put together his best month of the season when it mattered most.

Judge’s September not only helped his personal agenda, but it helped the Yankees make a push for a playoff spot. He’s had the Rookie of the Year award wrapped up for a while now, but this late-season surge should help him win the MVP award as well.

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