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Brett Borzelli

Why Aaron Judge is the MVP of the American League

The 2017 baseball season will forever be remembered as The Year of The Judge.

Aaron Judge was drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft. He spent parts of three seasons in the organization’s minor league system, and was a top-rated prospect.

When the front office made the surprising decision to enter rebuilding mode in mid-2016, starting right fielder Carlos Beltran was shipped off to the Rangers. This move gave Judge an opportunity to finally show what he could do at the big league level.

The young right-field prospect burst onto the scene with bombast. He hit a mammoth home run in his first major league plate appearance, captivating the crowd at Yankee Stadium.

Expectations for Judge were quickly tempered, however. He completed the 2016 campaign by striking out 42 times in only 84 at-bats, while hitting only three more home runs.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi had Judge compete with Aaron Hicks for the starting job in right field during spring training. At the time, speculation dictated that if Judge had a poor showing, he may start the 2017 season in the minors.

Rookie All-Star

That scenario never materialized. Instead, Judge not only won the right field nod, but he went on to have arguably the greatest rookie season in baseball history.

Judge became only the third Yankees outfielder to start an All-Star game, following pinstripe legends Joe DiMaggio and Hideki Matsui. By the All-Star break, Judge had amassed 30 home runs, 66 runs batted in, and posted a slash line of .329/.448./.691.

The rookie led the American League in all three Triple Crown categories for most of the first half of the season. He also led the league in OPS (1.139), walks (75), and runs scored (75). Judge put an exclamation point on his tremendous first-half showing by winning the Home Run Derby.

Midsummer Adjustments

His sheer domination couldn’t last forever. Predictably, the 25-year-old fell into a slump to start the second half, but battled through it. As pitchers attempted to extend the strike zone, he maintained his plate discipline. Even as the hits became scarce, Judge continued drawing walks.

With the pennant chase heating up, Judge entered September looking to break out of his slump. The Yankees were trying to clinch only their second playoff berth since 2012, and they needed their young run-producer to step up.

September Slugger

In true MVP fashion, Judge came through when the team needed him most. With the Yankees chasing the Boston Red Sox for the AL East title, while simultaneously trying to fend off a pack of rivals nipping at their heels for one of the two Wild Card berths, Judge had his best month of the year in September.

He hit seven doubles, belted 15 homers, scored 29 times, and drove in 32 runs. Judge compiled 80 total bases, while achieving a 1.352 OPS. His .311/.463/.889 slash line for the final month of the season was Ruthian.

The Bronx Bombers finished the season by going 20-9, thanks in large part to Aaron Judge. He helped them wrap up the top Wild Card spot, allowing New York to play that one-and-done elimination game at home.

Yankees’ Offensive Centerpiece

On the year, New York’s 241 home runs led the majors. The club was second in the AL behind Houston in runs scored, and trailed only Cleveland in run differential. Judge was the centerpiece of this offensive juggernaut.

The club was 62-31 (.667) when Judge either scored or drove in a run. They were only 29-40 (.420) when he did not.

The Bombers were 6-1 when Judge slugged multiple home runs, and were 23-5 when he drove in at least two runs. All Rise contributed eight multi-RBI games in September, his highest monthly tally of the year, at a time when the club desperately needed a lift.

All Rise for the Statcast Legend

The young slugger put on a power display all season long. 11 of the 25 hits with the highest exit velocity this year were crushed by Aaron Judge, including four of the top five.

A highlight reel regular, Judge was also responsible for hitting the season’s longest home run. It was a 495-foot blast versus the Orioles at Yankee Stadium on June 11th.

He had four multi-homer games in September. He also set a new career high with six runs batted in on September 14th.

Judge Makes History

The Yankees right fielder completed his extraordinary debut season by leading the league in homers (52), runs scored (128), and walks (127). He was second in RBIs (114), on-base percentage (.422), slugging average (.627), and OPS (1.049).

In the process, Judge broke the rookie home run record set by Mark McGwire in 1987. Judge also broke Ted Williams’ rookie walk record, which the Splendid Splinter set in 1939.

The hardware has already started flowing into The Judge’s hands. He was awarded the Silver Slugger Award for right field this past Thursday. That after being a Gold Glove finalist. Judge is a lock to win the Rookie of the Year Award, and it will be shocking if he is not the unanimous choice.

Aaron Judge is the Only Clear Choice for MVP

Announced as being one of three finalists for the AL Most Valuable Player Award, Judge is on the precipice of becoming only the third player in history to win MVP and ROY honors in the same season. Only Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) have accomplished the feat.

This was not merely one of the greatest rookie seasons in major league history. Judge put together one of the most prolific individual campaigns in recent memory.

Although there are other candidates with impressive resumes, in the end there is only one clear choice for MVP. The slugging outfielder’s exploits dominated the headlines throughout the year. It was a campaign for the ages. The 2017 baseball season will forever be remembered as The Year of The Judge.

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Brett Borzelli writes about the New York Yankees on Pinstripe Alley and Baseknock MLB. He is a member of the IBWAA. You may peruse his Baseknock MLB articles by clicking here.

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