Why Aaron Judge is MLB’s ‘best player in the world right now’

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NEW YORK — Aaron Judge initially fooled us.

When he set the rookie home run record with 52 in 2017, we mistakenly thought Judge was just a home run hitter. Although his underlying numbers suggest otherwise, we falsely believed that his future success in the sport was entirely tied to his ability to put balls over the fence.

But Joe Girardi knew better.

“You can talk about the home runs and the RBIs, but it’s the base and the base and the defense,” the then-Yankees manager said of Judge in 2017. “He’s the whole package of what we got. him.”

Of course, there are plenty of (clutch) home runs in this package.

His last out Tuesday saved the Yankees from an early loss to the Orioles, who sit just above New York in the standings. The Yankees trailed by one run and were down to their final two outs when Judge showed how brilliant he is with his bat. Despite an 0-2 count against elite closer Felix Bautista, Judge took a full swing on a hanging cutter and sent it into the left-field bleachers to tie the game.

That those closest to him expected so much from Judge says it all.

“No one was surprised,” said Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe, whose sacrifice fly in the 10th inning clinched a 6-5 victory. “Everything he does, he makes it look easy.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone added of Judge: “He’s the best player in the world right now and he keeps showing you why all the time.”

Aaron Judge of the Yankees hits a solo home run to tie the game against the Orioles

Aaron Judge of the Yankees hits a solo home run to tie the game against the Orioles

And from day one. Judge’s all-around talent has been on display since 2017, when he joined Ted Williams to become the second rookie in MLB history to record at least 100 RBI, 100 runs and 100 walks. He was also the only player with at least 40 home runs that year to steal nine or more bases. Missing last year’s historic 62-homer season was the fact that he walked a career-high 16 bases.

For a 6-foot-7, 282-pounder who likely could have excelled in the NBA or NFL, Judge has made it a point to excel in all facets of baseball. To label him as strictly a “home run hitter” is not only incomplete, but also inaccurate. He has become, without a doubt, the best player of his generation.

“Even growing up as a kid, it was about being a complete player,” the judge said in March. “I never wanted to be just a hitter, I never wanted to be just a defensive guy. I wanted to be all-around and help in any way I could.”

In his first full season, Judge entered Tuesday first in home runs (229), fourth in walks (488), fourth in on-base percentage (.398), second in slugging (.593), second in OPS (.992 ). ), and tied for seventh in runs scored (556). Among players with at least 500 plate appearances, Judge ranks sixth in walk percentage (15.1) and in the 95th-100th percentile in expected on-base percentage, and has led the league in average exit velocity each season in MLB.

What does all this tell us? Judge is both a hitter and a slugger, and one who has been rated above average defensively throughout his career.

Is Aaron Judge MLB’s best hitter?

Is Aaron Judge MLB's best hitter?

This well-rounded identity flows beyond the scoreboard. For seven years now, Judge has shown that he wants the Yankees to win more than he wants to decorate the back of his baseball card. That selfless mentality is what led the 31-year-old to earn a nine-year, $360 million contract with the Yankees last offseason. Of course, his 2022 MVP award may have pushed his price up not more a little. But the intangibles of the superstar matter as much to the organization.

“It’s comforting for him to know that all his hard work has paid off financially,” Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Judge. “He gets to really shut himself down here in New York. He decides to make a home for himself somewhere [his wife] Sam. All the comfort off the field practically leads you to be comfortable on the field as well.”

It’s easy to see that Judge is a little different this year than last year. Smile wider and more often. He is more relaxed both at the plate and in the dugout. It’s giving us a little more personality than in past years.

Judge’s free and easy attitude is especially interesting given that there seems to be a greater sense of responsibility on his shoulders, being named the Yankees’ new captain, to keep his teammates in check. That was evident during his infamous at-bat in Toronto last week, when he took his eyes off the pitcher for a moment to survey the Yankees bench before throwing a ball into the stands. While 29 fans focused on calling Judge a cheater for his unusual look in the dugout (the Blue Jays’ Jay Jackson later admitted he might have been tipping pitches), the Yankees saw their leader impatient with the outside noise.

Were Aaron Judge and the Yankees cheating or is it just part of the game?

Were Aaron Judge and the Yankees cheating or is it just part of the game?

If anything, those accusations of “cheating” only seemed to make Judge better. On Monday, he was named the American League Player of the Week after slashing .500/.621/1.273 with seven runs scored, two doubles, five home runs, 11 RBIs, seven walks in 22 at-bats and a stolen base in six . games

The Yankees are 25-14 (.641) in games with Judge this season – which would mark the third-best winning percentage in baseball – and 5-6 (.454) without him. After his 10 days on the disabled list, New York is 9-3.

What has impressed Boone most about Judge’s season so far is how he picked up where he left off last year. Judge may not hit 62 home runs, but he is beating his 2023 projections with 14 home runs in just 141 at-bats and a .298/.400/.652 slash line. When healthy, he is an unstoppable force. When he’s on, he makes the Yankees great. Without him, well, thanks to his long-term contract, that’s something New York doesn’t even have to think about.

“I just want to make sure we’re in a place where whatever happens around us doesn’t have a giant effect on us,” Boone said. “Go in, go in with that advantage, get ready and go compete, and we’re doing really well.”

Do these traits remind you of someone? Essentially, Boone wants the Yankees to be more like Judge: the complete package.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three and a half seasons as a reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. You never miss a Rafael Nadal match, no matter what country or time zone he’s playing in. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

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