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The Yankees Finally Have The Dynamic Duo They Wanted

The New York Yankees of recent seasons haven’t exactly lacked for star power — or success, for that matter. Ever since transitioning out of the Derek Jeter/Alex Rodriguez Era in the mid-2010s, New York owns the third-best record in baseball and has featured numerous All-Stars up and down its roster.

But one missing ingredient has been simultaneous greatness from the hard-hitting tandem of right fielder Aaron Judge and designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton, the team’s second-highest-paid player behind new ace Gerrit Cole. The Yankees didn’t necessarily need Stanton’s prodigious power when they acquired him — they had already led the majors in homers the year before he arrived — but the addition of another MVP-caliber hitter, in combination with Judge, had New York poised to become an unstoppable slugging juggernaut. Judge and Stanton, though, have never quite clicked at the same time, and the Yankees haven’t made it past the American League Championship Series in the two seasons with both stars.

But early in this strange 2020 season, which has been stranger for the Yankees than most teams, the pair is trying to change that narrative. Stanton started the season hot and Judge is currently on a roll. If the initial returns are any indication, this could be the year for them — and their team — to finally cash in on their immense potential together.

When the Yankees acquired Stanton from Miami in December 2017, he was coming off a 59-home run, National League MVP season worth a career-best 7.7 wins above replacement,1 while Judge had just set a rookie record with 52 bombs, generating 8.1 WAR. If the two had shared a lineup that season, their 111 combined home runs would have ranked second all-time for any set of teammates — behind only fellow Yankees Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who hit 115 together in 1961.

Stanton and Judge looked like a historic pair — on paper

Most combined home runs by two teammates in MLB history, plus hypothetical situation if Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge had been teammates in 2017

Rk Year Team Players Total HR
1 1961 Yankees Roger Maris 61, Mickey Mantle 54 115
2 2017 Yankees* Giancarlo Stanton 59, Aaron Judge 52 111
3 2001 Giants Barry Bonds 73, Rich Aurilia 37 110
4 1927 Yankees Babe Ruth 60, Lou Gehrig 47 107
5 1998 Cardinals Mark McGwire 70, Ray Lankford 31 101
6 2002 Rangers Alex Rodriguez 57, Rafael Palmeiro 43 100
7 1999 Cardinals Mark McGwire 65, Fernando Tatis 34 99
8 2001 Rangers Alex Rodriguez 52, Rafael Palmeiro 47 99
9 1998 Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. 56, Alex Rodriguez 42 98
10 1998 Cubs Sammy Sosa 66, Henry Rodriguez 31 97
11 1997 Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. 56, Jay Buhner 40 96
12 2017 Marlins Giancarlo Stanton 59, Marcell Ozuna 37 96
13 1930 Cubs Hack Wilson 56, Gabby Hartnett 37 93
14 1932 Athletics Jimmie Foxx 58, Al Simmons 35 93
15 1996 Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. 49, Jay Buhner 44 93

*Stanton was on the Miami Marlins in 2017 but joined the Yankees before the 2018 season.

Source: FanGraphs

But the most Stanton and Judge ever actually bombed for the Yankees in the same season is 65, in their initial season together. They have never both hit 30 homers in the same season as teammates, much less 50 apiece. And last year, they combined for only 30 in total. By and large, those are pretty disappointing results for a duo that had Maris-and-Mantle potential on paper.

In his first regular season with the Yankees, Stanton stayed healthy and crushed 38 home runs with 4.3 WAR, which would be seen as a standout performance for most players, in most cities. (Even for Stanton, it was better than either his 2015 or 2016 seasons.) But New York is a demanding town, and Stanton had not lived up to the expectations set by his stellar 2017 season. Making matters worse, in the 2018 postseason, Stanton struck out six times in 18 at-bats and put up a .444 on-base plus slugging as the Yankees were eliminated by the Boston Red Sox.

For his part, Judge was limited to 112 games in 2018 because of a wrist injury, still hitting 27 home runs with 5.5 WAR but otherwise seeing reduced numbers from his breakout the previous season. His postseason stats were good — he had an impressive 1.194 OPS against Boston — but that just emphasized how difficult it would be for the Yankees to get the best out of both Judge and Stanton at the same time. Even with Judge raking, New York averaged just 3.5 runs per game (1.8 fewer than their season average) in the four-game series loss to the Red Sox.

Then, in 2019, Stanton had just 0.4 WAR while missing 144 games with a wide variety of ailments, ending the year with a career-low three home runs. Judge missed 60 games himself, though he did hit 27 home runs and record 5.1 WAR, and the duo was limited to two home runs in the postseason as Stanton suffered a quad injury in Game 1 of the ALCS.

Heading into 2020, in their two-year career as Yankee teammates — during the 2018 and 2019 regular seasons — Judge and Stanton started only 117 games together out of a possible 324, good for a rate of only 36 percent. They collectively hit just 95 homers — or an average of 23.8 per player, per season. They’ve seldom been able to stay healthy at the same time, much less simultaneously play to their combined ability level.

Until this year, that is.

Judge and Stanton are finally heating up at the same time

Home runs, weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and wins above replacement (WAR) per 162 games for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton by season, 2018-2020

Giancarlo Stanton Aaron Judge
Year HR wRC+ WAR* HR wRC+ WAR*
2018 38 129 4.3 27 150 5.5
2019 3 139 0.4 27 141 5.1
2020 2 198 6.9 6 245 16.2

*Per 162 games.

Weighted runs created plus adjusts for ballpark effects and the run-scoring environment in any given year, with 100 always average. WAR is measured using JEFFBAGWELL (Joint Estimate Featuring FanGraphs and B-R Aggregated to Generate WAR, Equally Leveling Lists), which averages the metrics found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com. FanGraphs

It’s very early in a very odd season. And the season may not even be allowed to play out to completion given COVID-19 concerns. But for Judge and Stanton so far, 2020 is promising to be different in a good way. Stanton, long the darling of Statcast (MLB’s ball- and player-tracking technology), set the tone when he smoked a ball out of the park at 121.3 miles per hour in New York’s second game of the season:

As Tony Wolfe of FanGraphs noted, that will likely be the hardest-hit ball we see all year in this pandemic-shortened season. The last time a batted ball traveled so fast was in 2018 … when it also left the bat of Giancarlo Stanton. Beyond the raw power, Stanton has also cut his strikeout rate (18.9 percent) to the lowest it’s ever been, and he’s walking at a career-high clip (18.9 percent) as well. He’s also played all nine of the Yankees’ games so far, maybe the most important statistic of all, and that has him on an early pace for nearly 7 WAR per 162 team games. This is the Stanton New York thought it was getting when it dealt for him three years ago.

Meanwhile, Judge is in an absolute zone right now. After going deep Sunday night to give the Yankees a late lead against the Red Sox, he has hit six home runs in his last six games; he leads the American League in runs scored (11 — tied with Seattle’s J.P. Crawford), homers (6), runs batted in (14 — tied with Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz), total bases (31), slugging percentage (.886), OPS (1.270) and batter WAR (0.9). Judge has managed to battle through injuries the past couple seasons to still produce the ninth-most WAR in the AL, so the Yankees can only imagine what a healthy Judge can do. And so far this year, he’s also played all nine of New York’s contests.

In fact, the nine games Stanton and Judge have started together this year already represent more than 7 percent of all of the games they’ve ever started together, and the 2020 season isn’t even two weeks old yet.

Of course, a lot more can go wrong in a season like this than even in a normal year. The 8-1 Yankees are off to a tremendous start, and our prediction model thinks they are the AL favorites, but that still just means they have a 16 percent chance of winning it all. However, seeing two of the best power hitters of their generation tee off on opposing pitchers has to be a welcome sight for a team that had visions of this back when Stanton and Judge were first united.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Footnotes

  1. Using our JEFFBAGWELL metric to blend WAR from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

Neil Paine is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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