Who’s Your Pick for 2018?

Some of you might be sick of hearing about him by now, I don’t know, but I’m endlessly fascinated by the fact that Aaron Judge just put in a whole season as the best player in baseball. Now, sure, that’s just me looking at WAR, and, sure, it was only possible because Mike Trout got injured, but think about what Judge was before, and think about what he became. We like to tell ourselves that we can see the best players coming. Judge, in spring training, was a major question mark. In his initial cup of coffee, he batted .179 with almost three times as many strikeouts as hits. Judge was terrible, and then, almost without warning, he was the best. That’s incredible!

Judge is endlessly fascinating just in general. One of the other interesting things about him is the sense I get that people remain unconvinced. Like, we all saw what he did in 2017 — it was impossible not to — but the jury’s still out on what Judge really, truly *is*. The playoffs left a certain impression. Judge was a fine hitter, by the results, but he struck out a whole bunch. He almost felt exposed, and there’s some doubt here that remains.

So this is another post built around some polls. There are three polls in here, the last of which will ask who you’d rather have next season: Aaron Judge or Paul Goldschmidt? The question itself is pointless, artificial. No one will actually have to make that choice in real life, certainly not based on WAR. But I want to know what all of you think. Judge is here for obvious reasons. Goldschmidt is here because he’s been super consistent. Nobody out there is a Paul Goldschmidt skeptic. Give this post feedback! Give this post the feedback I so deeply crave.

Aaron Judge was just worth 8.2 WAR. For his brief career, he’s been worth 6.2 WAR per 600 plate appearances. He’s projected, by Steamer, at 3.9 WAR/600. Paul Goldschmidt was just worth 5.3 WAR. For his career, he’s been worth 4.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances. He’s projected, by Steamer, at 4.1 WAR/600. The three polls in here: project Judge’s 2018 WAR, project Goldschmidt’s 2018 WAR, and then select the player you think will finish better. I might as well include some brief summaries. Some information of significance.

Aaron Judge

Why would you expect more big things from Judge? I can turn that question around: why wouldn’t you expect more big things from Judge? He did, again, just lead the majors in WAR. Yeah, there’s the Trout-related asterisk, but a WAR over 8 is a WAR over 8. The most obvious single trait is the quality of Judge’s batted-ball contact. He dominated the exit-velocity leaderboards. Judge has exactly one potential equivalent: Giancarlo Stanton. Judge might even be better than that. He hit balls at speeds that made him something like the hitter version of Aroldis Chapman.

Beyond that, did you know that Judge has above-average sprint speed? Did you know that he made an above-average number of catches? Judge isn’t a one-trick pony. Despite being a giant person, he’s shockingly mobile and he plays pretty good defense. That would get him more attention if it weren’t for, you know, the dingers. The eye-popping highlight dingers.

The argument against Judge is based on one thing. I guess it’s based on two things. One is your ordinary, run-of-the-mill regression to the mean. Then you’ve got the matter of league adjustments, which has something to do with Judge’s tendency to swing and miss. First-half Judge was on a 9.2 WAR/600 pace. Second-half Judge was on a 5.2 WAR/600 pace. That’s a big drop-off! Although I should note that Judge had an outstanding September. Although he followed that with a strikeout slump in the playoffs. Playoff Judge struck out 27 times in 57 plate appearances. There was enough there to justify some worry. There’s some chance that playoff opponents found a way to expose the league’s best hitter.

I don’t know how much stock to put in that. There’s nothing particularly original about the idea of throwing a guy low-away breaking balls, with the occasional high, hard one. That’s a style of pitching that dates back dozens of years. Judge isn’t the first guy to get that treatment. The question is, basically: How well can Judge continue to keep his swings and misses under control? This is probably why he’s still kind of a mystery. But you have an opinion. I know that you have an opinion. Express it below!

Paul Goldschmidt

It’s not that Goldschmidt is boring. There’s nothing boring about Paul Goldschmidt. He’s just so clinical, methodical. I think of him kind of like the offensive version of Cliff Lee: his goal is to systematically dismantle his opponent to the point at which said opponent can’t be put back together. Goldschmidt loses sometimes; because he’s a hitter, he actually loses more than half of the time, technically speaking. But Goldschmidt is never defeated. Pitchers don’t ever get to stop worrying about him. They just sometimes get to tuck that worry into a corner for an inning or two. The thought of Goldschmidt still lingers.

It didn’t have to be Judge and Goldschmidt. It could’ve been Judge and Joey Votto. It could’ve been Judge and Anthony Rizzo or Judge and Jose Altuve. The idea is just to contrast against some great player who everyone agrees is steadily, consistently, undeniably great. Ideally, a great player with a similar-looking Steamer projection. One thing I do like about Goldschmidt is that, like with Judge, he has a secondary skill that goes mostly unnoticed because of the focus on the hitting. Judge is a great hitter who plays solid defense. Goldschmidt is a great hitter who’s solid on the bases. He’s at +20.2 baserunning runs for his career, and he just stole 18 bases, a season after stealing 32. Goldschmidt has more career steals than Austin Jackson, Jason Heyward, and Hunter Pence. He lags only 10 steals behind Lorenzo Cain. Goldschmidt is a statistical value machine.

If there’s any kind of particular risk here, it’s tied to the fact that Goldschmidt recently celebrated his 30th birthday. 30-year-old first basemen tend to get worse more often than they get better, and Goldschmidt’s body might gradually start breaking down. Yet there’s zero sign of injury-proneness. All this is is loose speculation. Goldschmidt feels like one of the safer bets around, which is what makes him a perfect choice for this article. Way to go, author.


And so we have reached the end. Thank you again for your participation.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

Goldschmidt’s probably a better offensive player as of next season, but the defensive adjustments are really rough on 1B. I suspect their WARs are going to be similar.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’ve long had the opinion that positional adjustments on first basemen and DHs is to strong.

Doug Lampertmember
6 years ago
Reply to  Meir-w

I tend to think the positional adjustments need to be valued in wins, and then converted to runs when applied.

It seems obvious to me that the run environment changes the positional adjustment. If the average game had a cricket like score in the hundreds of runs, then it would be absurd to claim that a DH is only indistinguishably different in value from a league average short stop, and actually defensively better than a slightly below average short stop, but that’s what would happen with positional adjustments in runs rather than wins.

6 years ago
Reply to  Meir-w

It isn’t too much if you have a lot of amazing hitters who can’t play other positions. But for whatever reason some of our better hitters play shortstop and other “premium” defensive positions.

The positional adjustments may not adequately reflect our current offensive environment, where finding a mashing DH is really expensive.

I feel like this could be an article. I’m not sure of the answer.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I wholeheartedly agree. A good base runner in your DB cleanup spot who plays good defense and is consistent? And should I mention he’s done this for 6 years?