Tuesday Discussion: Mookie Betts or Aaron Judge
November 29, 2022
This week, based on a quick survey we saw on MLBTR, and discussed in this article here at SSTN, we asked our writers who they would choose to begin a team if the choice was between Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts.
Here are their responses:
Paul Semendinger - What a question! There is no correct answer to this. At all. Both players are 30-years-old. (Judge is about six months older than Betts, but...) According to Baseball Reference the following are the typical numbers for each player over 162 games:
Betts: .293/31/94 .368/.520/.888 134 (OPS+) 8.2 WAR
Judge: .284/49/110 .394/.583/.977 163 (OPS+) 8.2 WAR
Seasons with over 140 games played: Betts =5, Judge =3
HOLY COW! Although the numbers above favor Judge in almost every way, both players average 8.2 WAR, the exact same number, over 162 games. My goodness.
I wondered if Judge's numbers were skewed positively by 2022, but that doesn't seem to be the case:
Median OPS+: Betts = 133, Judge = 149
Defensively, they seem similar. Both play right field. Both have played centerfield. Betts' dWAR is about a run higher over 162 games. Betts also hits more doubles, steals more bases, and strikeouts about half the time Judge does.
Judge is the much better power hitter, Betts is the better all-around player... or so it seems. Although they're both all-around great players.
This reminds me of a similar debate that might take place if one had to choose between Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. How do you pick? (They both have a lifetime OPS+ of 155!)
Going forward, I am less confident that Aaron Judge will stay healthier than Betts. I sense that Betts will have a better overall decade, BUT, I also sense that Judge will have a few better monster-like seasons. As a Yankees fan, if I had to take one, I'd take Aaron Judge. I'll stick with the guy we've got. (Now, if Judge signs for another team this winter, then I'd take Mookie Betts!)
Lincoln Mitchell - They are both great players, and Betts is a little younger. I suspect if I did a deep dive into the data, I would project Betts having the better future. However, occasionally I go with my gut on these things. Judge has spent his career with the Yankees; and Betts spent his entire career with the Red Sox and the Dodgers, so I’m going with Judge.
Cary Greene - If I was building a team and I had a choice between Mookie Betts or Aaron Judge, I'd absolutely build around Judge. Besides the home runs and the RBI's, I think Judge is a natural leader who leads by example and is always the consummate teammate. Judge is a more impactful "team centerpiece" and he's more productive to boot.
Chris O'Connor - This is a great question because not only are they great players, but both are great face-of-the franchise type people. And with them both being 30 years old and Gold-Glove caliber right fielders, current age and defense becomes more of a wash. I lean toward Betts for a few reasons. For one, I have more confidence in how Betts' 5'9", 180 lb frame will age than Judge's 6'7", 280 lb frame will. While I think some of Judge's injury concerns are overblown, the reality is that there is not much precedent for how someone his size will decline, regardless of how athletic he is. Secondly, while Judge's has markedly improved as an all-around hitter since his breakout 2017 season, Betts still beats him significantly in areas like strikeout and contact rate. I think that those skills will age better for Betts. Ultimately, this is really as close as it gets. Since 2017, Judge leads all position players in fWAR with 36.2 while Betts is right behind with 35.3; since 2018, Betts leads Judge 30.0 to 27.6. While I believe that Judge's ceiling is higher in the near future, I think the consistency of Betts, combined with more precedent for how a player like him will age, leads me to lean slightly toward him.
Ed Botti - Good question. Both are outstanding players, and it seems outstanding people as well. Neither bring baggage to their teams and neither embarrasses their teams or show up their opponents. I like both players a great deal. They play the right way.
Both are 30 years old, both are right handed, both are solid defensive players. Betts has 2 years more of MLB service time than Judge, having made his debut in 2014. Excluding their rookie years and the 2020 shortened season, they are both pretty durable, Judge averages 135 games per season and Betts is slightly higher at 141 games per season.
Over their careers Judge is a .284 hitter and Betts is a .293 hitter. The difference is in power. Judge averages 49 Home runs and 110 RBI and Betts is at a respectful 31 and 94. Of course the other side of that coin is strikeouts. Betts averages only 101 strikeouts per season while Judge averages twice as many at 202 per season, but Judge gets his walks averaging 105 to Betts' 75. Judges OPS+ is at 163 compared to Betts at 134.
Betts is a better base stealer, but I am not building a team on base stealing out of my power hitter.
You couldn’t go wrong with either one, but if I was starting a team, I would grab number 99 and go from there!
Are you listening, Hal?
Tamar Chalker - Oh, this is a tough one. I have a lot of respect for Mookie Betts and think the Red Sox royally screwed up letting him go, but I would still take Aaron Judge. Probably only because I have watched him since he got drafted. You can’t go wrong with either.
Tim Kabel - Although it is a close call, I would select Aaron Judge to start a team over Mookie Betts . Especially after 2022, Judge as seems to be improving. He has been much more durable in the past few seasons, and has put up tremendous numbers. I don’t expect him to duplicate last year but, I believe he has many more productive years left. I think at this stage, Judge is the more dominant and consistent player. If I were building a team, I would select Aaron Judge as the core of that team.
Mike Whiteman - I would choose Aaron Judge to start my team. Not only is he an excellent player, but he also brings leadership and media relation skills to the table. His character and humility makes him the ideal face of an organization. Nothing at all against Betts, who is a fine player and by all indications a good guy, but to me Judge is just off the charts.
Andy Singer - This is a fascinating question that I momentarily agonized over. If I'm building a team around either guy today, clearly I'm trying to build as many championship teams as I possibly can in the next 3-5 seasons, as both guys are at the end of their prime.
Betts and Judge are both among the 5-10 best players in baseball on a rate basis and are agonizingly similar in terms of total value on a rate basis for their careers. However, those rate stats begin to separate since 2020. Aaron Judge has been worth 8.0 bWAR/650 plate appearances since the beginning of the 2020 season while Mookie Betts has been worth 6.4 bWAR/650 plate appearances over the same span. Both are premium defenders; both are good baserunners; and surprisingly, Judge is fleeter of foot when digging into the metrics over the last 3 seasons.
Where things separate most glaringly is at the plate. Betts is an excellent hitter; Judge is an other-worldly hitter. While Betts gets credit from some outsiders for being a more well-rounded hitter, that really doesn't match the numbers. Judge might strikeout and whiff more than the average hitter, but part of that stems from the fact that Judge has to cover an enormous strike zone, made larger by the fact that umpires still consistently call low balls strikes against Judge. Even with all of that, Judge has improved his strikeout rate markedly in the last two seasons and combines that with excellent rates of contact and elite chase rates. Those only stand to improve when robo umps are implemented, which should also soften Judge's aging curve.
If you asked me who will be more valuable for the next 3-5 seasons, the answer is Judge. If I'm building a team that needs to win in the next 3-5 seasons, I'm building that team around Aaron Judge, and that's no disrespect to who Mookie Betts is as a ballplayer. Judge is just a better bet.