The Final Verdict on Aaron Judge’s Value (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
After Aaron Judge bashed 52 home runs in arguably the greatest offensive display ever from a rookie, skepticism still drove his price down to the second round. Those fears materialized in a mortal, injury-shortened sophomore season, but memories of his arrival have preserved a round-two cost.
By no means was Judge bad in 2018. In fact, the hulking outfielder alleviated everyone’s biggest fear by hitting .278 despite his high-strikeout ways. He simply wasn’t available as much, missing seven weeks after getting hit by a pitch on the wrist. As a result, he settled for 27 home runs, 67 RBI, and 77 runs in 112 games a year removed from plating an AL-best 128 runs as a neophyte.
There’s no discount to glean from the lost time and depreciated power. Judge is currently 17th in the ECR and 18th in the consensus ADP. Is he still worth the lofty investment? Let’s dive into last year’s results to determine where he belongs in 2019 drafts.
What About the BABIP?
How did a young star–on the Yankees no less–ever fall out of the first round after 2017’s seismic arrival? A 30.7% strikeout rate and .357 BABIP gave drafters cold feet about his .284 batting average plummeting.
His strikeouts stayed roughly stagnant (30.5%), and only five hitters with at least 400 plate appearances recorded a lower contact rate than Judge’s 65.9%. All of them besides Judge batted below .240. He not only sustained but increased his BABIP to .368, tying Mookie Betts for third behind J.D. Martinez and Christian Yelich.
Five years ago, before the invention of Statcast data, analysts would still be crying fluke. Now there are numbers to prove something anyone would know by watching the Marvel superhero miscast as an outfielder. He doesn’t make contact regularly, but when he does, it’s game over for that poor baseball.
For the second straight season, Judge led all hitters in average exit velocity (94.7 mph) and percentage of hard hits (54.1). Statcast once again says the average checks out, giving the young phenom a .273 xBA and a .391 wOBA that matches reality.
Judge is the outlier. The exception to the rule. Despite the exorbitant strikeout rate, drafters should view Steamer’s .251 projected batting average as a reasonable floor. It’s fair to expect something closer to his career .273 clip, and even that was contaminated by 95 putrid plate appearances in 2016’s debut. The power was actually more to blame for his fall to earth.
Where’d The Power Go?
This seems like a bizarre question to ask about a real-life Paul Bunyan who towered 27 homers with a .518 slugging percentage. Admit it: You wanted more after his other-worldly 2017. His homers per plate appearances slipped from 13.0 to 18.4, which would prorate to 34 long balls over Steamer’s 629 estimated trips to the batter’s box.
Drafters can find similar power at far cheaper costs. Even if adding two more blasts to match Steamer’s 2019 projection, he wouldn’t distinguish himself substantially from Rhys Hoskins or Nelson Cruz. Giancarlo Stanton, predicted to post an MLB-high 45 dingers, would make a better power pick at the same price, and others (Matt Olson, Michael Conforto, Mike Moustakas, Hunter Renfroe) could broach 30 for a fraction of the cost.
While always unlikely to repeat 2017’s MLB-high 35.6% HR/FB rate, his regressed 29.0% trailed only Yelich, Martinez, and Max Muncy among batters with at least 450 plate appearances. Yet he traded too many fly balls for grounders, which is reflected in his batted-ball distances and launch angle. This also yielded a steep drop in barrels, balls struck with an exit velocity of 98 mph at a 26-30 degree launch angle that almost always leads to damage.
|Year||GB%||AVG Distance||AVG HR Distance||Launch Angle||Barrel %|
|2017||34.9||215 FT||413 FT||15.7°||25.7|
|2018||41.7||183 FT||397 FT||12.5°||16.2|
But again, this is a 6’7″, 282-pound behemoth playing half of his games inside Yankee Stadium. Despite the steep drop in barrel rate, he merely finished sixth instead of lapping everyone for first. Also, he was batting .285/.398/.548 when sidelined by the wrist injury. He mustered a .675 OPS in a dozen games back to close the season before returning to form by going deep in three consecutive postseason games.
Better health won’t push him back to 50, but 40-45 remains well within reach.
Clearing the fences 40 times instead of 35 would matter a lot more than it seems. Also, don’t forget that he has stolen 15 bases over the last two seasons. With less speed required to stay competitive in the fleeting category, every bit helps.
Can any other player say 50 homers and 10 steals is–while still highly improbable–within the conceivable range of outcomes?
There’s definitely a case to preferring Paul Goldschmidt’s safety, Freddie Freeman’s superior bat-to-ball skills, and/or Trevor Story’s immense five-category ceiling. And yet despite last year’s injury, at least Judge had a full offseason to heal (unlike Francisco Lindor and Alex Bregman) and is locked into an optimal playing environment while Manny Machado and Bryce Harper still search for homes. Eschewing those question marks for Judge is understandable in early drafts.
ATC and THE BAT each project 39 homers, 98 RBI, seven steals, and over 100 runs with an average in the .260-.270 range. That seems like a better baseline than Steamer’s skeptical outlook. Plugging each of them into FanGraphs’ auction calculator, those stats make him a top-20 overall hitter valued at around $26-28 in a 12-team mixed league with five outfielder slots.
The jury rules that Judge is going right where he should. In OBP and points leagues, however, he should jump into the first round.