When it comes to the race for AL Rookie of the Year, it's hard to not immediately think of New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge. The 25-year-old has taken baseball by storm this season and, for the most part, ensured that he and his powerful bat will be around for a good long while.
All in all, the 6'7", 275 lb Judge looks like he will indeed go home with the award and cement his spot in baseball's annals.
There's just one problem. Judge has looked like a completely different player since the All-Star Break, and not in a good way. His second half slump could be enough to cost him Rookie of the Year honors, putting a rough end to what once looked like a dream season.
But even in the shallowest of rookie pools this year, will the voters go that far and give the trophy to another player?
Judge by the numbers
Now, despite Judge's second-half slump, he is still having what most would consider a strong season. He is batting .277 on the year with an AL-leading 38 home runs and 85 RBI to go with an amazing .412 on-base percentage (OBP).
Judge is also the first rookie to amass 100 walks in a season since Jim Gilliam did so for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953, making him a truly special player. Throw in his 5.6 WAR for the season and he looks all the better.
Judge also won this year's Home Run Derby and hit 47 total home runs, cementing his status as an elite power hitter at the major league level. There was a time when it looked like he would not only win AL Rookie of the Year, but also MVP.
But then the second-half slump, rookie wall, whatever one may call it hit Judge like a ton of bricks after the All-Star Break. He has hit just eight home runs since then and is also batting a subpar .181. He was hitting an impressive .329 at the break but has since seen his batting average dip to where it is now. Oh, and did I mention that he leads the Majors with 181 strikeouts and set a new record this season by whiffing in 37 consecutive games?
Judge also has had just three multi-hit games since the All-Star Break, so it really has been a tale of two seasons. The man who once looked like Babe Ruth has since looked more like an Adam Dunn type and, at this rate, Rookie of the Year is no longer a guaranteed lock.
The good news for Judge is that when it comes to his competition for the award this year, the pool isn't exactly deep. The only other player who could really make a play for Rookie of the Year is Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who has hit .276 with 19 home runs, 74 RBI and 18 steals this year. Given how the Red Sox are currently first in the AL East and have looked far more consistent than the Yankees this summer, Benintendi could wind up stealing the gold right out from under Judge's nose.
Another name that comes to mind is Baltimore Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini, who has hit .290 with 23 home runs and 72 RBI this season. Strong as he has looked, however, he has still played in the collective shadow of Judge and Benintendi, two men who have established themselves as players to watch on their respective teams.
And the winner is...
No disrespect to Benintendi and Mancini, but there is no way that either man will be named Rookie of the Year over Judge. He has done just too many great things this season in spite of his weak second half and his Stantonesque power implies that he will be around mashing the ball great distances for a good long while.
On top of that, talented though Benintendi and Mancini are, they have both posted sub-3 WARs this year. Benintendi's WAR is only 2.3, while Mancini's is just 2.1. In an era where sabermetrics rule the roost, voters are going to take that into consideration and realize that Judge's WAR is not to be brushed aside.
That all being said, on numbers alone, Judge really is the top rookie in the American League and there is no reason why he shouldn't be named as such. His second half should serve as a wakeup call to him that he isn't invincible, but it certainly shouldn't keep him from being named Rookie of the Year.