It’s been a long time since any rookie player in Major League Baseball has made such a huge impact for his ball club, and left such large footprint upon the game in such a short period of time. It’s a rare occurrence, but when it happens, it’s special, and usually marks a new era for the sport.
Sixteen years ago Ichiro Suzuki came to play in America just a few months shy of his 28th birthday. During that 2001 season the Seattle Mariners’ new Japanese star set baseball ablaze, leading the American League in singles, later being named the AL’s batting champion. Meanwhile, Ichiro also led the majors in hits, stolen bases and plate appearances that year.
As expected, The Wizard cleaned up in the trophy department, winning a Silver Slugger award and a Gold Glove, as well as a spot in the 2001 All-Star Game. Even more remarkable, Ichiro won both Rookie of the Year and league MVP in one season, the first player win to do so since Fred Lynn in 1975.
Now, in a year in which the New York Yankees were not even supposed to be a factor – all but written off by experts until at least 2018 – a new enigma has emerged in the Bronx. Aaron Judge, a hulking six-foot seven-inch rookie outfielder, is completely changing baseball hit by hit.
It’s not just that baseball’s marquee franchise are hot again, duking it out atop the contentious American League East with their hated rivals the Boston Red Sox, or that Judge is the latest power hitter following in the footsteps of Dave Winfield, Derek Jeter and Reggie Jackson. What stands out is that Judge is, in his own right, having an absolutely phenomenal and historic first full season. It’s a summer classic, the type that looks like it will be one for the ages.
Judge, who turned 25 right after Opening Day, leads not just the American League, but all of baseball in the home run department, with a current total of 26. Add to it that Judge also leads in slugging (he’s just shy of .700), as well as on-base percentage plus slugging, with an OPS of 1.139. He’s also currently tied for third in the majors in runs batted in and leads the American League in RBIs. Those are runaway Rookie of the Year numbers.
Even more remarkable for a first-year player is that Judge leads all players in Wins Above Replacement, a metric used to quantify a player’s entire contributions at bat and in the field. Judge’s contributions right now are Rookie of the Year stuff. And, if he stays on the same tear with these numbers – especially if the Yankees contend in the postseason – it would be very hard to make a case against Judge being named the American League’s 2017 MVP as well.
Whether or not you’re ready to place bets on Judge winning both of those trophies, or on the Yankees as a shoo-in to win the division much less a 28th World Series this year, Judge’s work so far still puts him in some legendary Yankees company.