Projecting Yankees Call-Ups Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin

Just hours after Alex Rodriguez walked off the field following his final game (in pinstripes, at least), the Yankees made the following string of transactions.

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And just hours after making those transactions, both Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin had already homered in the big leagues. Out with the old, in with the new.

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Aaron Judge (Profile)

Judge is an impressive physical specimen. His chiseled 6-foot-7 frame generates loads of power, yet he’s still an average-ish runner. As a result, he’s been a mainstay on prospect lists, including a #42 ranking on Baseball America’s mid-season list. Those impressive tools have manifested themselves in strong Triple-A numbers for Judge this season: .270/.366/.489 with 19 homers and 5 steals.

Still, despite that strong performance, my KATOH projection system isn’t completely sold on Judge. My system projects him for 4.9 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method, which makes him a back-end top 100 prospect. KATOH+, which integrates Baseball America’s rankings, projects him for 5.6 WAR, which puts him right around the #50 range.

To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Judge’s first six seasons in the major leagues.

Judge

To put some faces to Judge’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the giant outfielder. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Judge’s Triple-A performance this year and every Double-A season since 1991 in which a corner outfielder recorded at least 400 batters faced. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Aaron Judge’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Trot Nixon 0.12 6.8 17.9
2 Damon Buford 0.53 3.0 2.6
3 Darren Bragg 0.54 5.6 9.6
4 Brian Giles 0.73 5.2 20.7
5 Shin-Soo Choo 0.78 4.8 18.2
6 Richie Sexson 0.84 3.9 12.2
7 Bobby Higginson 1.27 3.0 13.5
8 Marty Cordova 1.54 3.6 6.7
9 Ben Johnson 1.69 2.9 0.4
10 Nate McLouth 1.70 4.4 8.5

The biggest red flag in Judge’s statistical profile is his strikeout rate. He’s struck out in an unsettling 24% of his plate appearances this season, after whiffing in 26% last year. Furthermore, while Judge has tremendous power, it hasn’t always shown up in games. He’s enjoyed a nice little power spike this season, but even so, his .212 ISO falls short of elite. Prior to this season, he averaged a tick under 17 homers per 500 plate appearances, with half of that coming in A-Ball.

KATOH also penalizes him a bit for his age. At 24, Judge isn’t terribly old for a prospect who was drafted out of college, but most star hitters establish themselves in the big leagues at a younger age. Consider Giancarlo Stanton, who some have unfairly used as a body comp for Judge. By the end of his age-24 season, Stanton already had 154 homers and 21.1 WAR on his big-league ledger.

Of course, none of this is to say that Judge isn’t a good prospect. A guy who has succeeded in Triple-A and has cracked top-50 lists is most definitely a good prospect. But regardless of how far he can hit baseballs, there are a few warning signs in his profile that we shouldn’t ignore.

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Tyler Austin (Profile)

The Yankees originally drafted Austin in the 12th round out of high school back in 2010, and he snuck onto a few prospect lists in 2013 after putting up crooked numbers in the low minors. His prospect stock quickly tumbled, though, as he struggled through injury-shortened seasons in both 2013 and 2014 as he battled a lingering wrist injury.

Austin hit rock bottom last year, when he hit a weak .235/.309/.311 with a 27% strikeout rate at Triple-A around a hip injury. Heading into 2016, Austin was a 24-year-old corner outfielder who hadn’t hit at all in three years. He looked like a non-prospect.

Austin opened the year by hitting an acceptable .260/.367/.395 at Double-A, but has absolutely raked since the Yankees bumped him up to Triple-A in early June. He slashed a Bonds-ian .323/.415/.637 in 234 plate appearances, while also kicking in five steals. His wRC+ at Triple-A was 202. 202!

KATOH gives Austin credit for his ridiculous 2016 numbers, but remains relatively conservative on him. My system projects him for 3.1 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method, which makes him a borderline top-100 prospect. KATOH+, which integrates Baseball America’s rankings, projects him for just 1.8 WAR.

Austin

Here are his comps.

Tyler Austin’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Mike Wolff 0.58 1.4 0.0
2 Rob Maurer 0.85 2.5 0.0
3 Casey Rogowski 1.09 2.0 0.0
4 Cole Gillespie 1.10 2.0 0.1
5 Paul Sorrento 1.25 1.2 7.1
6 Rex De La Nuez 1.28 1.5 0.0
7 John Roskos 1.29 1.4 0.0
8 Michael Restovich 1.30 2.0 0.0
9 Juan Miranda 1.37 1.6 0.3
10 John Raynor 1.37 1.7 0.0

As good as Austin’s been this year, he was all sorts of terrible last year, and his atrocious 2015 numbers drag down his projection. And even following his offensive breakout, Austin remains a defensive liability. He’s also about to turn 25, which makes him pretty old for a prospect — and especially for a prospect who was drafted out of high school.

Austin’s past injuries might help explain his terrible 2015 performance, so perhaps KATOH isn’t giving him a completely fair shake. But even so, all Austin really has going for him is 10 weeks of crazy-good hitting. Maybe the Austin who posted a 202 wRC+ in Triple-A is the real Austin, but more likely than not, the real Austin looks more like a bench player than anything.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Doorknob11
Member
Doorknob11

Kind of sucks that Judge was drafted by the Yankees, a guy with his talent probably would of been in the majors a couple of years now if he had been drafted by another team.

redsoxu571
Member
redsoxu571

This is only the third professional season for Judge. He couldn’t have been advanced much faster given that he came with some fairly major weaknesses to work on. For reference, look at how terribly Jackie Bradley Jr did when he was brought up fairly quickly…and that in spite of the fact that his offensive game didn’t have such big weaknesses and that he had hit really well in the minors.

Judge hasn’t dominated yet at any stage, and his weaknesses could have become crippling if he had been rushed and forced to cut corners to stay afloat. I’d say he’s moved up at the exact proper pace.

Mallow
Member
Mallow

I’m glad the Yankees took their time to help Judge on his path to the majors. shorten his swing up to help counter his long arms. Strikeouts are always going to be part of his game, but by giving him ample time to work on that he’s maintained a solid walk rate and seen his K% drop nearly 5% while increasing his HR’s and ISO.

That said he’s still just 24, which some might look at as an older prospect, and while that may be true even from draft day he was looked at a project, one that would need plenty of fine tuning to reach the majors. Other teams could have tried rushing him to their detriment, but I’m glad the Yankees did not.