- E.J. Fagan
Aaron Judge, Best Player Ever, Is Back
by EJ Fagan
May 22, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
Last year, Aaron Judge arguably the best season of all time. The rational thing for anyone to say when asked how good he would be in 2023 was, “worse.” A lot has to go right for a player to repeat their best performance.
You’ve probably heard people use the phrase “regression to the mean.” That is a concept borrowed from statistics arising from the Law of Large Numbers. In baseball, a player has an average expected performance. Let’s say the player’s true talent level, for the sake of easy math, is .200/.300/.400. However, for the first half of the season lots of things go right—batted ball luck, weather conditions, the player is able to stay unusually focused—and he hits .300/.400/.500 in the first half. If we assume that his true talent level hasn’t changed, we would expect him to finish the season at .250/.350/.450. The hot start doesn’t change your expectations.
Before last season, Aaron Judge was a career .276/.386/.554 hitter. Pretty great, but only “gets some MVP votes when he’s healthy” great. Then, he hit an insane .311/.425/.686, broke the home run record and everything else. What should we expect Judge to hit in 2023?
A lazy regression to the mean analysis would probably say his new career average, or .283/.394/.585. We assume that everything that could possible go right went right for Aaron Judge, adjust our expectations upward to his new career line and call it a day.
But, what if Aaron Judge’s true talent level changed permanently (or at least until he gets old) in 2022? What if his “mean” to regress to were closer to his 2022 season than his career line? Could he do it again?
A month and a half in, he’s doing it again:
Statcast puts Judge’s xwOBA at .463, which is both the second best in baseball and identical to his 2022 season. He’s striking out a little bit more while hitting for more power. His actual batting line is a bit worse at .278/.381/.624, but Statcast thinks that’s mostly bad batted ball luck. Just this week, we’ve seen him miss two home runs by about a combined three feet.
The numbers get even more insane when you look at his recent performance. I was worried about Judge in April. He just signed the big contract. He’s 31 years old. If he isn’t at least career Aaron Judge for a few seasons, that big contract will start to look like an albatross quickly. He was hitting .261/.352/.511 when he went on the injured list on April 27th.
Since coming off the injured list on May 9th, he is hitting .317/.442/.878 with seven home runs. If you cut off his 3-for-14 start after coming off the IL, he’s hitting .370/.500/1.185 in seven games. He has seven home runs (including one double off the top of the wall) out of his ten hits during that time. He’s unstoppable.
We’ll see how long Judge keeps it up. The crazy thing about his 2022 season was that he kept it up over 157 games, barely slumping for more than a few games all season. But, I think it’s worth asking: what mean is Judge going to regress to? How good is he? It sure looks like his 2022 season is exactly what we should expect.