Astros slugging DH (and "outfielder") Yordan Alvarez is a terrifying hitter who, even at his highest heights, hasn't matched Yankees captain Aaron Judge's peaks. For now, that is where the conversation begins and ends -- unless you're Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell, obviously, works for the Astros, and has to defend his guys. We get it. Apparently, though, it's not enough to employ one of the game's best hitters (who's also, for what it's worth, comparable in OAA to a particularly thick lamppost). You have to employ the best hitter, a player whose postseason prowess in 2022 apparently helped devalue Judge's 62 home runs in the process.
The ex-'Stros first baseman laid out his case on the Astros' broadcast this week after Alvarez surpassed the number of plate appearances Judge had in his first four years in the bigs. The main argument, per Bagwell, rests on Alvarez's consistency (“You’re not going to see as many valleys with Yordan.”), as well as his superior batting average and number of RBI (.297 to .273, 86 more runs batted in).
Even the Houston Chronicle noted, though, that "the argument could easily be made that Bagwell’s decision in this debate was heavily influenced by his loyalty to the Astros." Wow. You think?
Astros' Yordan Alvarez is great, Yankees' Aaron Judge is a little better. Simple.
Where to begin? Comparing Alvarez's first 1,719 plate appearances to Judge's first 1,718 plate appearances is a fantastic way to cherry pick. It's all the data we have on Alvarez, after all, but it's not all we know about Judge; it's just the best way to make the Astros slugger look like the superior hitter.
We know what Judge became after that. Alvarez could become anything. He could even become Judge!
Houston's slugger's highest OPS+ in a season is his remarkable 185 last season; Judge posted a 211 mark. This season, Alvarez is once again raking, posting a 174 mark; Judge sits at 182. These are two top-five hitters in the game! That's nothing to sneeze at. Judge is simply ... better, at this moment in time. Who cares whether Alvarez's 2022 was better than Judge's 2018?
Astros fans and former players. That's who.
Noting RBI is especially hilarious. Oh, Alvarez's current Astros teammates are superior to Judge's Yankees cohorts from 2017-2019, and get on base more often ahead of him so he can cash them in? You don't say! Wonder if there are any other, say, postseason results that prove the same point?
Of course, the final indignity is that Bagwell chose "best hitter" as his hill to die on because he knew the "best player" battle was lost long ago. Alvarez's defensive contributions are nonexistent by design; Judge has built has statue with cannons from right just as much as he's built it with cannonballs to the bleachers.
The Chronicle polished off their puff piece by trying to supplement Bagwell's brief argument with false equivalencies. "Sure, Judge has an MVP, but Alvarez has a World Series ring. He has also hit two of the biggest home runs in Astros postseason history," they wrote. Anything can sound dismissive if you write "sure" ahead of it and add a comma. And it's true: Judge will never hit any of the biggest home runs in Astros postseason history.
That bit of trolling does hit on the ultimate Judge frustration; without a title to his name, his career will always be jaw-dropping, relentless, innovative ... and incomplete. But beating up on Robbie Ray in the spotlight can't erase an AL home run record. Judge will simply have to save his postseason rampage for 2023-2025 and officially put this homer argument to bed.