Aaron Judge’s Triple Crown chances

Andrew Simon


By Andrew Simon
www.mlb.com

But it’s possible that an AL Triple Crown could sneak up on us in the final weeks.

The reason? It’s the same slugger who has already captivated the baseball world with his pursuit of 60 home runs and beyond. Yes, the Yankees’ Aaron Judge is blowing away the field in that category and also holds a hefty lead in RBIs.

But it didn’t appear that Judge was really in the AL batting race — until recently. After going 0-for-2 on Sept. 2 at Tampa Bay, Judge had a .294 average, which was tied for seventh in the AL, 25 points behind the leader, Minnesota’s Luis Arraez

Even this far into the season, things can change quickly when you go on the sort of tear Judge has authored since that point. He is 20-for-41 (.488) over his past 11 games, which has brought the race to this point:

Well, well, well. As we stand here, with about three weeks left in the regular season, two things are fairly obvious from that leaderboard: 1) Judge still faces an uphill climb, and 2) He now has a shot to pull this off.

But how realistic is that shot? Let’s break down some different scenarios showing how this race could play out from here.

It’s worth acknowledging before we begin that playing time is a huge wild card in all of this. One or more of these players could get banged up and miss some time. In fact, Arraez exited the Twins’ game Wednesday night with left hamstring tightness, adding a small dose of uncertainty to the rest of his season. (Arraez was out of Minnesota’s lineup on Thursday but pinch-hit). There’s also the chance of players being rested even if they are healthy.

But for the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume that each of these top five candidates plays in each of his team’s remaining games and maintains his season-long pace of at-bats per game.

Let’s take a look at Judge’s season so far in order to get an idea of what is within the realm of possibility. The Yankees have 19 games remaining, and in Judge’s best 19-game span in 2022, he batted .437, from July 16-Aug. 8. Is he going to repeat that over this finishing stretch? Almost certainly not, but the point is, he has demonstrated that it’s possible.

If Judge does roughly replicate that performance, here is what that could look like, with each of his four challengers listed with the maximum number of hits they could get and still finish behind him, once again using our assumption regarding each player’s at-bats remaining. (Note: Arraez’s figures don’t account for him going 0-for-1 on Thursday night).

Reminder: There are no ties unless two players have the exact same number of hits and at-bats; otherwise, decimal places are used to determine who finishes first.

Would this lock up a batting title for Judge? Hardly. Arraez was hitting above .338 for the entire season as recently as July 26, through his 87th game. Bogaerts, in his past 19 games, is batting a red-hot .425. Both players are fully capable of rising to this level, though at least Judge would be pushing the competition to be at its best. But again, we can’t reasonably expect Judge to set this sort of pace, so let’s move on to (slightly) more plausible scenarios.

Nobody has seriously threatened to post a .400 season in quite some time, but doing it for a 19-game span is obviously a different story. This would still represent a sprint to the finish line for Judge, but again, he has already been playing at that level of late. Since Aug. 20, he has notched exactly a .400 average over 23 games.

Both Abreu (who had three hits Thursday afternoon) and Lowe have stretches this impressive over the course of the season, so Judge certainly would have to watch out for them. But .338 would be well within Bogaerts’ established range — he’s matched or beaten that figure in almost one-third of his 19-game spans.

As for Arraez, it’s worth noting that the ZiPS system projected him to bat .311 the rest of the way, entering Thursday, and projection systems are naturally conservative in nature. If Judge “only” hits .400 from here, he may have no better than a 50-50 chance of finishing ahead of Arraez, assuming Arraez isn’t too physically compromised.

We’re only talking about 70 more at-bats for Judge, and in that small of a sample, just three hits creates a difference of more than 40 points of batting average. That’s one ball finding a fielder’s glove (or not) every six games or so, but that could be the difference in Judge winning the batting title or not.

At this point, he’d be counting on both Arraez and Bogaerts batting under .300 the rest of the way. Possible? Sure. But if you look at the max averages they are pegged for in this example, both players have fallen below those in a strong minority of their 19-game stretches this season.

And if you think .361 seems a little unrealistic for Lowe, consider this: He leads the Majors with a .369 average since the All-Star break.

So far, we’ve examined outcomes that are highly optimistic for Judge, but what about one that’s closer to his baseline? Judge boasts a .341 average since July 1, so something in that neighborhood over the final 19 games would be nothing close to an outlier.

Now you see the difficulty here. If Judge is merely good and not great from here on out — at least in terms of batting average — he will have to count on his top two challengers both hitting well below their season and career levels. Bogaerts, for example, has hit above .268 in every season since 2015.

We’re now at the point where Abreu would be batting below his season average and well below his recent level. He has been above .320 in each of the past four months after a slow start.

It’s almost a given that if Judge is going to win this thing, he will have to play above his expected performance. But what if he doesn’t? ZiPS projects Judge to bat .291 the rest of the way, so let’s try something close to that.

You can’t say this scenario is impossible, but it certainly seems remote. Arraez and Bogaerts both have only a small handful of comparable spans this season. At this point, Judge would also need Lowe to hit below his season average.

A Judge batting title — and by extension, a Judge Triple Crown (something no Yankee has done since Mickey Mantle in 1956) — is clearly within the realm of possibility. But just as clearly, it’s going to be difficult. Really difficult. It likely will require an excellent finish, and even then, he has four formidable challengers, each of whom could overcome that. Arraez’s health is now another potential complication, one that highlights the many ways in which Judge could fall short.

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