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Hochman: How good is Aaron Judge this year? Even better than peak Shohei Ohtani

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A fan holds a sign as Yankees designated hitter Aaron Judge prepares to bat against Red Sox starting pitcher Brayan Bello during a game Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in New York.

There sure are some good players in the American League this year.

There’s a pitcher, for instance, who averages 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings — the highest in all of Major League Baseball. Oh, and he also has a 2.47 ERA.

Meanwhile, there’s a hitter who has 34 homers and a wRC+ of 145, tied with National League superstars Austin Riley, Bryce Harper and Mookie Betts.

Yes, the pitcher and the hitter are the same person.

The incomparable Shohei Ohtani, a unicorn who surreptitiously hides his horn under his hat, is at it again. As a pitcher and hitter combined, the Angel has a 9.0 WAR per baseball-reference.com, which is the exact WAR he had last year when he won the MVP award.

Unanimously.

All of this, you soon will see, will speak to the greatness (absurdness?) that is Aaron Judge’s 2022 season. See, Ohtani’s 2021 was one of the greatest seasons in modern history, and with the same WAR in 2022 it’s possible someone else will win the MVP honor.

Unanimously.

Cardinals fans witnessed the larger-than-life Judge in August. In three games at Busch, the Yankee smacked five hits in 13 at-bats, including a demolished double, while driving in a total of four. It helps that he stands eye-to-eye with The Arch. The 6-foot-7 New York giant has become the perfect hitter. And, frankly, he’s having the greatest offensive season since … Barry Bonds?

Well, those Bonds seasons were as ridiculous statistically as was the notion that he was clean.

So, how about Mike Trout?

Well, entering Sunday night's game against Boston, Judge's wins above replacement was 9.9.

Trout had a WAR of 10-plus twice, in 2012 and 2016. But his OPS+, a well-respected stat that is adjusted to ballparks played in, never has reached 200. Judge entered Sunday with an OPS+ of 212. For perspective, if you take out shortened seasons (such as 2020 and 1994) and take out PED users (such as Bonds and Mark McGwire), the most-recent year a player had an OPS+ better than Judge’s this year was 1957. Nineteen-fifty-seven! Coincidentally, two dudes did it — Ted Williams (233) and Mickey Mantle (221).

Using the same parameters, the only guys to even flirt with a 200 OPS+ in this century are Trout (198 in 2018) and Bryce Harper (198 in 2015). Miguel Cabrera, in his 2013 Triple Crown season, had a 190 OPS+.

In the previous century, a pre-PED Bonds had a 206 OPS+ in 1993, Mike Schmidt hit 198 in 1981, George Brett eclipsed 200 at 203 in 1980 and Willie McCovey had 209 in 1969.

Again, Judge's OPS+ is 212.

Entering Sunday, Judge’s batting average was .314, just behind AL leader Xander Bogaerts (.315) of Boston. Judge had 60 homers, the most in the AL this year (and most in the AL since, of course, 1961). And Judge had the most RBIs (128). So, yeah, he could quite possibly win the Triple Crown.

And he could also win what I call the “Slash Stats” Triple Crown of batting average, on-base percentage (.420) and slugging percentage (.696).

That takes us to Judge’s 1.116 OPS, which is the highest non-Bonds total in baseball since 2001 (Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Luis Gonzalez, Jason Giambi and Todd Helton all tied or exceeded 1.116 that year).

The highest OPS Albert Pujols ever had was 1.114,  in the MVP season of 2008.

And Albert's top homer season was 47 (in 2009). His highest OPS+ was 192 (in 2008).

So, Judge’s 2022 is better than any of the Pujols seasons in St. Louis.

And, of course, this season isn’t even over. Judge’s Yankees have 10 more games to play, including the final four against the woebegone Rangers. He might rest in some of these 10 (perhaps in one of the doubleheader games at Texas), but this still means more at-bats and chances to pad these already astounding stats.

But really, for all the comparisons, Judge’s extraordinariness simply comes back to this — there is the equivalent to two All-Star players inside one player’s body, yet that player isn’t the most valuable.

Last November, imagine if someone said — what would it take to beat Ohtani in the MVP voting? Someone might’ve said — I don’t know, something crazy like hitting 60-plus homers and winning the Triple Crown?

And here we are.

As for Ohtani, he’ll likely finish second in the MVP voting — and it’s arguable that his season will be the best second-place MVP season since Bonds in 2000 (lost to Jeff Kent), McGwire in 1998 (lost to Sosa) or Albert Belle in 1995. That year, the Cleveland slugger hit 50 homers and 52 doubles. He batted .317 with a league-best .690 slugging percentage. His OPS was 1.091. But he lost to Boston’s Mo Vaughn, who hit .300 with 28 doubles, 39 homers and a .963 OPS.

As for Cardinals fans who missed Judge at Busch in August?

There is still a chance they could catch him in October.

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