By Ernie Palladino
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If Aaron Judge doesn’t win the Rookie of the Year award by a unanimous vote, then somebody’s got rocks in his head.
Most Valuable Player is the raging issue right now. And it’s certainly not a cinch that the Yankees’ humble homer machine takes home baseball’s premier piece of hardware.
It all has to do with one problem: That nasty 44-game glitch Judge fell into post All-Star break could and should be considered by the voting baseball writers. It’s probably why Houston’s Jose Altuve or Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez will come out on top, despite what should be a strong challenge from the Yankee.
Ultimately, it’s the slump and those 204 strikeouts he has as of Wednesday that could sink him.
It all depends on the weight the voters place on those 50 homers.
On its face, the number is certainly impressive enough to garner an MVP award. On top of the sheer magnitude of anyone surpassing Mark McGwire’s 1987 rookie record of 49 homers, the fact that Judge is only one of two players who will finish with 50 or more adds a lot of glitter. And the other one is Miami strongboy Giancarlo Stanton, who plays in the other league.
Just as awe-inspiring as the home run stat was his transformation from all-or-nothing flailer to catalytic hitter in the course of one offseason.
Without that, it’s quite likely the Yanks would not be close to their current position. They will go into the postseason Tuesday on the shoulders of their rookie sensation and the 13 pitches he disappeared over various fences in September. Certainly Gary Sanchez and others had something to do with the month’s 17-7 record that solidified their wild-card standing. But Judge’s resurgence provided the initial spark.
But that’s kind of the point. They are a second-place team facing what amounts to a one-game play-in to the real tournament. That could turn into a leveling factor against Judge because his slump, in large part, put his team behind Boston in the first place.
That’s a heavy statement to lay on any rookie. But the reality is that his fall from a .326 to .277 between July 14 and Sept. 1 coincided with a 28-27 stretch that saw his team fall permanently out of the AL East lead and as low as third place.
Others had something to do with it, too. But none of them had put up the All Rise numbers Judge did the first half of the year. Like it or not, his troubles — mighty ones that saw him hit .201 and strike out 71 times — drew the spotlight.
Memories of that truly awful time that produced just seven homers between prolonged power droughts could lead voters away from him and into the Altuve and Ramirez camps. Altuve’s base running and hitting consistency (.348 average) have helped Houston run away and hide from the rest of the AL West.
And remember that record-setting winning streak that pulled the Indians far from the rest of their Central competition? Ramirez had a big part in those 22 victories. A slash line of .413/.451/.960, with nine homers, 11 doubles, a triple, 16 RBIs and 18 runs scored led the offense. And the nice part is that he only struck out three times in 75 at-bats.
He has just 68 strikeouts on the season, with a .317 batting average and a league-leading 51 doubles.
While there’s no arguing what Judge has done in September, he’s no shoo-in to join Freddy Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki as the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP the same season.
If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, Judge should still be delighted with the Rookie of the Year plaque. He’ll win that one uncontested.
MVP could be a different story.
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