2017 has been a strange year for fantasy baseball. Some notable fantasy stalwarts have fallen off or underperformed this season, opening the way for new young talent to dominate. For every Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols that has disappointed in 2017, there has been a breakout star to take their place, with one player in particular standing out above the rest. With the end of the 2017 fantasy baseball season fast approaching, Six Man Rotation is pleased to announce our Fantasy Breakout Hitter of the Year: New York Yankees OF Aaron Judge.
Aaron Judge was a much discussed player in Spring Training. There was rampant speculation about his place with the team and whether or not he would earn a spot on the major league roster following his disastrous big league debut at the end of the 2016 season which saw him hit .179 while striking out nearly 45% of the time. By any measure, Judge looked completely out of his depth during his brief cup of coffee last year and it led to a lot of doubt whether he would break with the team out of Spring Training. The apex of the Judge speculation in the preseason came when he hit this now famous moonshot against the Phillies in one of his very first Spring Training at-bats
From there, the hype was unstoppable. Judge continued to impress throughout the spring, finishing with a triple slash of .333/.391/.462 across 69 PAs while crushing 3 huge home runs. The strikeout issues from 2016 persisted a bit as evidenced by his 15/6 SO/BB ratio in the spring but on March 30th, Judge was confirmed as the Yankees’ starting RF heading into the 2017 regular season. What happened after that has become MLB legend.
Right out of the gate in March and April, Judge looked like a man reborn. A combined 197 wRC+ across the two months to go along with 10 HRs in just 90 PAs immediate vaulted him into Rookie of the Year contention while critics continued to wait for his problems from 2016 to re-emerge. Judge built on an impressive start and continued to impress through May, maintaining a wRC+ above 180 while building his legend with huge home runs one after another. When the calendar turned to June, Judge seemed to find another level, vaulting himself from being the Rookie of the Year favorite to a legitimate MVP candidate. Aaron Judge’s June is one of the most dominant and impressive months in MLB history. Highlighted by a 204 wRC+, Judge slashed .324/.481/.686 across 133 PAs in June while crushing another 10 home runs.
Not everything has been great for Judge this season though. His slump following the All Star Break and Home Run Derby is well documented. Since the beginning of July, he’s failed to hit above .230 and has seen his season wRC+ drop to 157. Accompanying this has been a jump in his K% from a season-low 26.7% in April to a season-high 36.4% in July. There’s no arguing that the league has made adjustments to Judge’s dominance but there’s evidence that Judge has begun to make adjustments of his own. His September is looking good so far and while he’s still striking out more than you’d like from someone who earlier in the season looked to be a dominant fantasy force, his wRC+ is slowly creeping higher and he’s hitting home runs at a higher clip again.
Judge has, at various points throughout the 2017 season, been a source of elation and disappointment for fantasy owners. With all his ups and downs this season however, Judge will likely finish the year as a top 10 outfielder and top 30 hitter overall. For a player who came into the year with a tenuous hold on a starting spot in an admittedly weak lineup, what Judge has done this season is more than deserving of recognition as the Breakout Hitter of 2017.
Final Projected 2017 Stats for Judge: .270 AVG / 120 R / 47 HR / 101 RBI / 8 SB
2018 Projection: At midseason it looked like Judge was a lock to be a first round pick in all league formats for 2018 and beyond. Given his second half slump and mild rebound, we think that Judge will settle into a spot in the second round of most drafts. Look for a 2018 ADP around the Anthony Rizzo - Freddie Freeman range.
Projected 2018 Stats for Judge: .265 AVG / 105 R / 35 HR / 110 RBI / 5 SB