It is easy to look at Aaron Judge and immediately come to the conclusion that he is Giancarlo Stanton reincarnated. First, at 6’7, 275 pounds, Judge’s immense frame actually dwarfs Stanton, who is listed at a puny 6’4, 245 pounds. Second, much like Stanton, Judge arrived in the show with the reputation as a highly touted right handed right fielder with prodigious power potential. Both hitters were drafted out of California high schools. Both were second round picks. The similarities are endless. But while Stanton’s otherworldly power made him the highest paid player in MLB history, his clone — Aaron Judge — could prove to be even better before it’s all said and done.
I hate to operate off small sample sizes, but if we use statistics such as Exit Velocity, Hard Hit%, and Z-Contact%, which normalize rather quickly, we get a portrait of Judge’s enormous potential. Below are a list of the hitters who have managed a Hard Hit% of over 50% while making contact on pitches in the zone at over a 85% clip.
So yeah, Aaron Judge is in pretty great company here. I know that a Hard Hit% of 50% and a Z-Contact% of 85% are arbitrary endpoints, but it is no coincidence that being able to both make frequent contact with strikes and being able to hit those balls hard are two skills that some of the most elite power hitters possess both of. If we extend this criteria to include hitters who have a Hard Hit% over 43% and keep the criteria for Z-Contact% the same, we get the following hitters:
These three hitters do not have the elite power potential as the guys on the first list so it is understandable that they would not have quite the same Hard Hit%. However, this incremental difference in Hard Hit% is made up for in elite contact skills. Most of all, this second list proves that only the best hitters in the league have both skills. Thus far, Aaron Judge is showing he possesses both skills.
The reason Aaron Judge is not being mentioned as a hitter that belongs in the same company as the guys on these lists is because of his high K%. No hitter can sustain a high batting average when they strike out roughly 30% of the time, and despite Judge’s incredible Hard Hit % and high Pull% which in tandem could lead to an elevated BABIP, he is probably not an exception to the rule. This is not a knock on Judge, but rather evidence that his more likely career path will resemble something closer to Giancarlo Stanton, but perhaps a better version.
Let’s take a closer look at Stanton and Judge side-by-side:
Below is table comparing Giancarlo Stanton’s career K%, B%, and Exit Velocity compared to what Aaron Judge has done so far in 2017.
|K%||BB%||Avg. Exit Velocity|
|Aaron Judge||30.6%||10.2%||94.6 mph|
|Giancarlo Stanton||28.6%||11.7%||97.2 mph|
As you can see, their statistics in these categories are almost identical, with a slight edge to Stanton in all three. However, when considering qualitative factors such as age, injury history, and their respective home ballparks, the tide starts to shift in Judge’s favor.
First, Judge plays in a much better hitters’ ballpark than Stanton. While most of the home runs both guys hit would be well out of any ballpark, the fact that Judge gets to play half his games in Yankee Stadium, which is the most home run friendly stadium in the MLB, while Stanton has to deal with the pitcher friendly confines of Marlins Park, gives a slight edge to Judge’s future power outlook.
Second, Stanton has averaged just 115 games played per year over the last five seasons. Some of these injuries were freak accidents such as Stanton getting sidelined for the year in June 2015 when he was struck in the face with a fastball. However, most of Stanton’s ailments have been orthopedic problems that are evidence that he may be more fragile than his body builder frame would suggest. Judge, on the other hand, has been mostly durable aside from an oblique injury in September of last year and a brief stint on the minor league DL with a knee injury the prior season. Predicting injuries is a useless exercise and Judge may very well fall victim to injuries while Stanton remains healthy from this point on, but if we are judging the future by the past, Judge gets the edge in the health category.
Lastly, making the argument that Judge may be better than Stanton is not as much about the hype surrounding Judge as it is about Stanton simply being overrated. While nobody can deny Stanton’s unparalleled power potential, the fact that he is the highest paid player in MLB history does not change the fact that the Marlins franchise player has failed to produce anywhere near enough to justify his insane contract. The casual fan sees the mammoth home runs that Stanton hits on nightly highlight reels and assumes he is a better hitter than he actually is. Stanton is a well above average major league hitter, but with the rest of the league hitter more home runs than ever, his skill set is less valued than ever. Understandably, Judge’s skillset is also one that loses value as the league shifts towards three outcome baseball. The difference is that Stanton is more or less set in his ways with his approach and it would be very surprising to see his peripheral stats change much for this point forward. Judge, however, is still developing, and based on his increased contact numbers this season, there is reason to believe that Judge could become a more well rounded hitter than Stanton has ever been.
I understand that Stanton is more proven that Judge and any claim that a player with just 55 career games could be better than a player who has hit 37 home runs in two MLB seasons is going to be greeted with a justifiable amount of skepticism. However, if we look at quick-to-normalize metrics and consider them in conjunction with more intangible factors, it is easy to see why Judge may just be Giancarlo Stanton 2.0.