Are Baseball’s Two Best Players Playing for the Same Team?
Aaron Judge was baseball’s biggest story in 2017. He produced a rookie campaign for the ages while finishing second in the AL MVP voting. Then, the Yankees pulled off a year-end coup by adding senior circuit MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the fold.
Who is the Best Player?
The term “best player” is highly subjective, which is part of what makes debating the topic so much fun. To be sure, there are a lot of great players in the game today. Each of whom brings a slightly different skillset to the table.
What is the most important stat? Batting average? On-base percentage? Slugging average? On-base plus slugging? Runs batted in? Runs created? Wins above replacement? These arguments have raged among fans throughout baseball history. New ones flare up every time a novel stat is introduced. I like home runs, so let’s start there.
Turn on the Power
En route to winning Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge shattered Mark McGwire’s 30-year-old rookie record by clubbing 52 to claim the AL home run crown. Stanton’s NL-best 59 homers in 2017 ties him with Babe Ruth for the ninth highest single-season total ever. Outside of the steroids era, only Ruth (60 in 1927) and Roger Maris (61 in 1961) hit more.
This marks the second time in Yankees history that the defending home run champs from both leagues will don the pinstripes. In 1949, the club acquired veteran slugger Johnny Mize from the crosstown rival Giants in a mid-season deal aimed at bolstering a struggling lineup while defending AL home run champion Joe DiMaggio was sidelined with a nagging injury. The Big Cat helped the Yankees win five straight World Series championships, with Joltin’ Joe along for the first three.
This rare union of incumbent home run champions only happened two other times in baseball history. The most recent was in 1976 when ex-Phillies star Dick Allen returned to the fold to join a young Mike Schmidt after a stint in the junior circuit. In 1947, an aging Hank Greenburg departed the Tigers to join young slugger Ralph Kiner in Pittsburgh.
What is unique about the pairing of Judge and Stanton is that they are both in their prime years of production. Each previous time the defending league home run champs united on the same team, at least one was an aging star in decline. In the case of Mize and DiMaggio, they both were.
Stanton is a Proven Slugger
While Judge is just getting started, Stanton has been a consistent source of power. Since his MLB debut in 2010, he has clubbed 267 home runs. Only three players hit more over that same time frame. Moreover, 2017 wasn’t Stanton’s first home run title. He previously led the NL with 37 long balls in 2014.
The only instance in major league history that a pair of teammates hit more than 50 homers in the same season was 1961 when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle accomplished the feat. Just think, Stanton and Judge could show regression in 2018 and still combine to hit more than 100 home runs.
Right Field Monopoly
Home runs aren’t the only talent that Stanton and Judge bring to the party. Last season, Judge drew a league-leading 127 walks, breaking Ted Williams’ rookie record in the process. All Rise completed his extraordinary debut campaign by also leading the league in runs scored (128) while finishing second in RBIs (114), on-base percentage (.422), slugging average (.627), and OPS (1.049).
Stanton led the NL in RBIs last year. During his career, he has led the league in slugging three times and total bases once. He was a four-time All-Star and received MVP votes four times, including a second-place finish in 2014.
The two right fielders both won the Silver Slugger Award last season, while Judge was a Gold Glove finalist. The duo combined for 291 Runs Created. Mays and McCovey, Maris and Mantle, Ruth and Gehrig, and Aaron and Matthews are among the pairs of teammates who have topped that number.
Partners in WAR
Judge’s 8.1 Wins Above Replacement was the second highest tally for a rookie in history. He was bested only by Dick Allen (8.8 in 1964) and Mike Trout (10.8 in 2012). Stanton, meanwhile, led the NL with a 7.6 WAR in 2017. Their 15.7 combined WAR was matched or topped by a pair of teammates only 70 times since the live-ball era began in 1920.
Interestingly, this mark was only reached by the same pair of teammates in consecutive years six times. The most recent occurrence was by Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent in 2001-02. The previous time was over forty years ago, accomplished by Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench in 1974-75. Willie Mays and Felipe Alou did it in 1962-63, as did Mickey Mantle and Gil McDougald in 1956-57.
Unsurprisingly, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combined for a 15.7 WAR or higher in six of seven straight seasons beginning in 1926. They came within a hair of making it seven straight, as they produced a 15.6 WAR in 1929.
Pinstripe Legends in the Making?
Ruth and Gehrig remain the gold standard for iconic teammates. It will be thrilling to see if Judge and Stanton can even approach the accomplishments of those two Yankee legends.
The prospect of Stanton and Judge hitting in the same batting order is undeniably intriguing. Stanton had been the centerpiece of a pretty bad Miami team. He now joins not only Judge but a group of other young sluggers that include Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. While Stanton will be the veteran of the group, I think it’s reasonable to expect that he will benefit from the added lineup protection just as much as they will. It will be very exciting to see how these hitters feed off each other during the coming season.
While Judge and Stanton have yet to play a single game together, they are joining forces at the right time. Judge is only 25 years old, while Stanton is only 28. They both have long careers ahead of them. They could terrorize opposing pitching for years to come while donning the Yankee pinstripes.