by Paul Semendinger
(Originally published – March 6, 2020)
Earlier this week we looked at the players whose careers were most similar to Giancarlo Stanton.
Following that exercise, I thought it made sense to do a similar analysis of the players most similar to the Yankees’ other big power hitter, Aaron Judge, who, like Stanton, has seemed to be continually hit by various injuries and such.
I figured that it made sense to look at players whose stats compare to Judge to see what the future might hold to determine if fans be concerned about the prospects of Aaron Judge being an elite player moving forward.
I was very surprised by the list of players who appeared on this list. Readers will see in a moment that the closest comps to Aaron Judge don’t give us much of a look into the future and Aaron Judge’s long-term prospects…
Let’s take a look at the list of the most similar players to Aaron Judge thus far in his career:
Cody Bellinger – Aaron Judge is 27-years old. He will turn 28 this season (in April). Bellinger is younger than Judge. He’s going to turn 25 in July. Bellinger has earned all sorts of awards including an MVP, but he offers no insight regarding Judge’s future. He’s been a much healthier player than Judge, but his career is far too new to draw any reasonable conclusions.
Kyle Schwarber – .Ok, Schwarber is older than Judge. That’s a start. It’s not a finish though. He’s older, by a month. He will turn 28 in March of this year. For this exercise, Kyle Schwarber is no help.
Trey Mancini – Uggg, he will also turn 28 in March.
Ronald Acuna, Jr. – He just turned 22(!) in December. He is no help.
Miguel Sano – He will turn 27 in May.
Tommy Pham – Finally an “old” guy. Pham will turn 32 in March. Last year he hit .273/21/68. He’s a nice player, but for this exercise he helps but little.
Michael Conforto – He will turn 28 in May.
Juan Soto – This is amazing. Aaron Judge seems to have no historical comps. None. Zero. Juan Soto will play the 2020 season as a 21 year old. At this point, I’m waiting to see Jasson Dominguez on this list.
Joey Gallo – I thought, for sure, Gallo was older than Judge, but no. Gallo is only 26.
Jorge Soler – Last month, on February 25, Soler turned 28.
A few things struck me from that list:
All of the most similar players to Judge are recent players, modern day sluggers for the most part. This seems rare to me. For example, on Giancarlo Stanton’s list, there were only two current players (J.D. Martinez and Bryce Harper) ranked as among the most similar. This could be due to the fact that Judge is still at the beginning of his career. I think most people would be surprised to know how few games Aaron Judge has played in thus far in his career. The answer is just 396. The reason the list is of players above is of modern vintage is that there isn’t a long history of games played to compare Aaron Judge to others.
One (obvious) reason Judge doesn’t have such a long games played history is that he is frequently injured. Of other four players who ranked at the top of the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2017 (Andrew Benintendi, Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel, and Matt Olson), only Olson has played in fewer games to date. Judge just can’t seem to keep himself in the lineup to play enough games. He might be a superstar whose legend is much bigger than what he’s actually produced.
The list above compares Aaron’s entire career to other players’ entire careers. I was hoping that if Judge is compared to how other players performed at his age, we might some some comparison players who can help give an indication of what time of player he might be long-term.
The following players are the most similar to Aaron Judge through their Age-27 seasons:
Jason Bay – Here is our first historical comp. In 2009, as a 30-year old, Jason Bay hit .267/36/119. That was his last good year. He never even hit more than 12 homers again. He was out of the game at age 34.
Craig Wilson – It gives me some pause to see that, historically, the second most similar player to Aaron Judge through his Age-27 season is…Craig Wilson. I was really expecting to see some big names at the top of this list. Maybe Rocky Colavito or Reggie Jackson, or Frank Howard…or even Moose Skowron. I wanted to see a big powerful slugger. Instead we get Jason Bay and Craig Wilson, two nice players but certainly not superstars or all-time greats. For his career, Wilson hit .262/99/292.
Jimmy Hall – Hall played for six teams (including the Yankees, briefly) between 1963 and 1970. He was a lifetime .254/121/391 hitter. What gives me pause are his homerun totals. After a big first year (1963), his homerun totals basically dropped each successive season:
1963 – 33 HR
1964 – 25 HR
1965 – 20 HR
1966 – 20 HR
1967 – 16 HR
(and that, sadly, was basically it for his career.)
David Justice – Justice reminds me of Judge in that he did burst on the scene and then seemed to under-whelm for a period, but looking at his career, he was actually better than I remembered. Of course, in 2000, as a 34-year old, he hit over 40 homers with twenty of them coming as a Yankee as he helped carry the Yankees to their World Series championship. Two years later, his career was over.
Norm Cash – He played for 17 years from 1958 to 1974. Cash had one really great year, 1961, when he hit .361/41/132. He never even hit .300 again. Still, he was solid player (lifetime .271/377/1104). I’d would gladly take that from Aaron Judge.
George Springer – I hate to ask, but, are his career numbers even real? How much did he benefit from trash cans, clapping, and possibly even buzzers? It matters little for this exercise, Springer is only 30-years old.
Kevin Mitchell – Kevin Mitchell hit .327/30/77 in his age 32-season (1994). That was his last productive year.
Geoff Jenkins – In 2007, at age 32, he hit .255/21/64. After his age 33 season, he was out of the game.
Kevin Mench – A nice player, he played from 2002-2008 and then made a small comeback in 2010. He played in over 130 games once in his career.
Ryan Klesko – This is another good comparison. Klesko burst on the scene somewhat like Judge (and David Justice). In his second season, as a 24-year old, he hit .310/23/70. His last 20+ homer season came when he was 32 and he was out of the game at 36.
Conclusion – I am very surprised with the absolute absence of any true greats on either of Aaron Judge’s lists. What does this say, if anything? To compare, I took a quick look at some players considered similar to Aaron Judge today. Mookie Betts has one Hall-of-Famer on his list of the most similar players through age-26, Duke Snider. But, Dick Allen and Barry Bonds, who both have Hall-of-Fame arguments are on his list. Cody Bellinger, the 2017 National League MVP at least has Frank Robinson on his list. Even Andrew Benintendi has…Harold Baines on his list. I’m very surprised that no one on Judge’s list is of that caliber. There are no Hall-of-Fame comps for Aaron Judge. None.
I hate to draw this conclusion, but right now, if we use these lists as a comparison, the long-term prospects for Aaron Judge are not overly promising. Using these lists as a comparison also seems to argue that Aaron Judge’s reputation is greater than his actual performance. Can it be said that Aaron Judge, at this point in his career is over-rated?