Why Aaron Judge Deserves to be the A.L. MVP



Alex Evans, Opinions Editor

It’s been a season full of ups and downs for New York Yankees rookie outfielder Aaron Judge.

After a historic first half of the season in which he hit 30 home runs and 66 RBIs with a .329 batting average, Judge fell into a six-week slide after the All-Star break before putting together a brilliant September.

That red-hot finish propelled the shoo-in A.L. Rookie of the Year back into the MVP conversation and, at least statistically, ahead of Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve in the race.

Judge’s regular season numbers were better than Altuve’s in almost every category, often leading the American League and all of baseball. His 52 home runs led the A.L  and trailed only Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s 59 home runs for the top spot in baseball.

The 6-foot 7-inch rookie’s 114 RBIs were good for the sixth-most in baseball and landed him in second place in the A.L. behind Seattle’s Nelson Cruz. His 120 runs scored were second only to Colorado’s Justin Blackmon in baseball and bested Jose Altuve’s total by 16.

Judge’s .422 on-base percentage (OBP) and .627 slugging percentage were both third place among all major league players and second only behind 2016 A.L. MVP Mike Trout. His 1.049 on-base plus slugging (OPS) were behind only Trout’s 1.084 OPS for the best in baseball, and his 127 walks led the A.L. and trailed only Cincinnati’s Joey Votto for the most in baseball.

Altuve’s 204 hits, .346 batting average and 32 stolen bases were the only three statistical categories that he had better numbers than Judge did. His average was the best in all of baseball, and his hit total fell six shy of Blackmon for the most in baseball.

By statistics alone, it’s fairly obvious that Judge should win the MVP. Numbers never lie, but the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the organization that determines the MVP in both the A.L. and N.L., will undoubtedly factor in Altuve’s consistency and Judge’s lack thereof for most of the second half of the season. That lack of consistency could actually end up working in Judge’s favor, and here’s why.

Judge’s first half and second half splits are nearly identical.

In the first half, he smacked 30 home runs, drove in 66 runs and walked 61 times. In the second half, Judge hit 22 home runs, drove in 48 runs and walked 66 times in 13 less starts.

The Yankees got off to a great start this season, going 21-9 in their first 30 games, and Judge was a major reason why. He hit .317 with 13 home runs and 28 RBIs over that stretch and, while a team can’t win a division or clinch a playoff spot in the first month of the season, they can certainly lose that spot, and Judge’s efforts made that scenario unlikely, despite the team’s inconsistent play over the summer.

Judge’s true value to this team and why he’s more valuable to the Yankees than Jose Altuve is to the Astros can be seen by New York’s streaky play during his epic slump. While he struggled with a .181/.342/.349 split up until September, the Yankees also had a tough time finding any consistency. In the 47 games following the All-Star break, the Yankees went 26-21, but had gone a combined 50-53 in the 103 games succeeding their 21-9 start.

Once September began, it was a completely different story. Judge hit .311 with 15 home runs and 32 RBIs, all similar to the numbers he accumulated during the first 30 games of the season. The Yankees went 20-8 during the final month of the regular season with five streaks of three consecutive wins or more.

The BBWAA shouldn’t ignore the glaring correlation between Judge and the success of the Yankees. When he was firing on all cylinders this season, so was the team. When he wasn’t, they sputtered.

The Astros did endure a mild slump in August, dropping 17 of 26 games, but Altuve wasn’t the reason why. He managed to hit .304 with 31 hits, six of which were home runs, and scored 15 runs while resting for two of the 26 games.

He’s a valuable piece of the Astros puzzle, but the team still would likely make the playoffs without him. The Yankees, without a 21-9 start to the season and a 20-8 finish thanks to Judge, might not have.

When taking all of these factors into consideration, the answer seems simple. Aaron Judge’s statistics, except for a few, are better than Altuve’s. His final splits, .284/.422/.627 with 52 home runs and 114 RBIs, would have challenged Mike Trout’s MVP candidacy in 2016.

Factor in that Judge broke numerous records, including the record for rookie home runs in a season and home runs hit in Yankee Stadium in a single season with 33—besting Babe Ruth’s 32 in 1921—and you have all the makings of a bonafide league MVP.