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Last 41 Games: Comparing Yordan Alvarez to Aaron Judge, now and then

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How does the young Astros’ sluggers start to his major league career measure to the mighty Aaron Judge’s 2017 and 2019 seasons?

MLB: AUG 02 Mariners at Astros Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Judge and Alvarez, 2019

If I were a betting man, I would put good money on Astros’ rookie sensation Yordan Alvarez winning the American League Rookie of the Year award this season. Not only does the Astros’ young slugger lead all rookie position players with a 191 wRC+, he’s also climbing the ladder in the WAR race in the AL. In only 41 career major league games to his credit, Alvarez has already accumulated 2.2 wins above replacement level, which currently ranks second by this year’s rookie class, pitchers included. By FanGraphs’ records entering Monday, only Brandon Lowe of the Rays (2.5 WAR) has a higher WAR total in the rookie race right now. For context, Lowe has played in 76 major league games this season. Again, Alvarez has only played in 41 games.

But enough about the AL Rookie of the Year race. There will be plenty of articles debating the merits of each candidate in the coming weeks, and I currently have no intention of traveling down the rabbit hole. Instead, I want to make a comparison between Alvarez and another notable slugger, Aaron Judge of the Yankees. Yes, I’m going there. I apologize for nothing.

To start this comparison, let's take a look at some common offensive metrics over the last 41 games for Alvarez and Judge.

MLB: Game Two-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Last 41 Games - Offensive Metrics

Player PA BA OBP SLG HR ISO wRC+
Player PA BA OBP SLG HR ISO wRC+
Aaron Judge 180 0.285 0.397 0.490 8 0.205 135
Yordan Alvarez 173 0.340 0.422 0.693 13 0.353 191

Both players have been really good at, you know, hitting a baseball. However, in roughly the same number of plate appearances over their last 41 respective games, Alvarez comes out ahead in all of the offensive figures listed in the table above. To be fair, though, Judge did miss roughly two months of the season with an oblique injury. Those are particularly tough to come back from. And about 25 of his plate appearances included the sample above came in mid-April and he was absent from major league action until June 21st. But the Yankees’ star has rebounded nicely since his return from the IL.

The overall indications point to Alvarez as the better hitter so far this season. Going forward? Well, who knows how the future will exactly play out? It is incredibly difficult for any player to maintain a wRC+ over 150, even for someone like Alvarez. Judge may heat up in the meantime during any potential Alvarez swoon. Batting average of balls in play, or BABIP, will also play a role in their future performances. Both are currently out-performing their historical BABIP, by the way.

Because these two players are notorious mainly for their power, let’s compare how well they slug. Since we’ve already established home runs, slugging percentage, and isolated power in the earlier table, let’s now take a look at hard hit rates and average exit velocity, in other words, how hard the ball comes off their bats. These numbers, I suspect, will help paint a fuller picture.

Last 41 Games

Player Hard Hit % Avg. Exit Velocity
Player Hard Hit % Avg. Exit Velocity
Aaron Judge 59.4% 97.6 MPH
Yordan Alvarez 50.9% 91.8 MPH

As I initially thought, Judge holds a notable edge in the hard hit rate and average exit velocity departments by a decent margin. He is just something else when it comes to hitting the ball hard. Alvarez isn’t a slouch in this regard, either. Since the Astros’ rookie debut on June 9th, there hasn’t been a hitter on the active roster with at least 50 results with a higher average exit velocity than Alvarez. Judge is just that good when it comes to hitting the ball hard. Unfortunately, a high exit velocity or hard hit rate doesn’t always translate into results and baseball remains a results-based business.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to evaluating a players OVERALL value, much depends on which baseball website’s wins above replacement formula you prefer. Warning: Defense kind of throws these figures all over the place.

Various WAR Models - 2019

Player fWAR rWAR bWARP
Player fWAR rWAR bWARP
Aaron Judge 2.1 2.9 1.6
Yordan Alvarez 2.2 1.9 1.3

By FanGraphs’ WAR model, fWAR, Alvarez and Judge have been worth roughly the same amount of wins this season although the latter has played in 15 more games this season. However, Baseball-Reference (bWAR) and Baseball Prospectus (bWARP) gives Judge the clear edge over Alvarez in player value. The difference between the sites mostly lies in the difference of defensive values used in their respective formulas. Judge, after all, is New York’s primary right fielder. Alvarez, on the other hand, is Houston’s primary DH. One sees plenty of time on the field while the other doesn’t, so it is easy to see why two out of the three notable WAR models favor Judge. In short, defensive metrics will help drive Judge’s value up while limiting Alvarez. At the same time, though, the WAR models show how much value Alvarez has provided with his bat alone. That is something worth mentioning, especially with Judge having 75 more plate appearances than Houston’s young slugger.

Judge And Alvarez, as rookies

Of course comparing the 22 year old rookie to the 27 year old veteran is little like comparing apples and oranges. Surely a few years of experience has aged Judge like fine wine, and we can expect Alvarez to grow at a similar pace.

Well, not exactly. Turns out Judge’s best year so far was his rookie year. Do you remember how Aaron Judge took the league by storm in early 2017? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Alvarez has garnered quite as much national attention as Judge did. Does he deserve it? Let’s compare the first 41 games of rookie Aaron Judge in 2017 to the first 41 games of Yordan Alvarez. Who was better?

Rookie Judge vs rookie Alvarez

Player/rookie PA BA OBP SLG HR ISO wRC+ k% hard hit % BABIP
Player/rookie PA BA OBP SLG HR ISO wRC+ k% hard hit % BABIP
A Judge 172 .315 .419 .685 15 .370 187 29.1 45.8 .383
Y Alvarez 173 .340 .422 .693 13 .353 191 24.9 50.9 .400

Dang, it’s amazing how similarly these two started their careers. But Aaron Judge was 25 as a rookie, and Alvarez barely 22. As the data above shows, Judge has not maintained his hot rookie start, but he has remained a formidable threat in any case.

Are the first 41 games for Alvarez a base from which to improve, as we normally expect rookies to do? Or will the league adjust to him as it did to Judge, and he will decline somewhat?

All in all, both players are incredibly valuable to their respective teams. Alvarez has graded out about equally as Judge in the respective early rookie years, and Alvarez has been the better hitter over his first 41 games than Judge over his last 41. Judge is worth more defensively to the Yankees than Alvarez is to the Astros.

That said, there is no way Alvarez can maintain a 191 wRC+ for an entire season, especially considering his .400 BABIP. That number will likely decrease as we inch closer to the postseason. Judge may also heat up and, if so, that gap will soon close. At the same time, I feel it is rather dangerous to doubt Alvarez at any point. We’ll probably see soon enough.

If it’s ever the Yankees and Astros head to head in the play-offs, the world will finally have to sit up and take notice of Yordan Alvarez. And when the inevitable comparisons are made about these two very imposing young men, you can say you read all about it here first.