Who Ya Got: Aaron Judge or Christian Yelich for the Rest of His MLB Career?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2020

Who Ya Got: Aaron Judge or Christian Yelich for the Rest of His MLB Career?

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    You're starting an MLB franchise today (or once the COVID-19-related hiatus ends), and you have to choose between two franchise players: the New York Yankees' Aaron Judge and the Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich.

    It's an enviable decision, obviously. Both are multitalented outfielders in the midst of their primes with MVP-caliber tools. 

    But if you're forced to pick, who do you take?

    Let's attempt to answer that question piece by piece, analyzing which player has the edge in five key categories before making our final, hypothetical selection.

                  

    Note: We're leaving out each player's current cost and contract status since this is about skills on the field.

Age and Durability

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Yelich turned 28 on December 5. Judge celebrated that same birthday Sunday. They're both on the right side of 30 with years of potential top production ahead of them.

    Yelich suffered a fractured kneecap on a foul ball in September 2019 and missed the remainder of the season, but the injury didn't require surgery. Between 2016 and 2018, he averaged 153 games per year.

    Judge, on the other hand, has battled various injuries early in his career, including wrist, shoulder and oblique issues and a cracked rib from which he is currently recovering.

    After playing 155 games in his American League Rookie of the Year season in 2017, Judge managed just 112 and 102 games in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

    Judge is young and strong enough to shake the injury-prone label, but for now, Yelich looks like the more durable of the two.

    Advantage: Yelich

Speed

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Judge moves well for a big man (he's listed at 6'7", 282 lbs), but he's not much of a threat on the basepaths, having stolen 18 bases in 28 chances during his career.

    Yelich, on the other hand, stole 22 bases and legged out seven triples in 2018. He swiped 30 bags while being caught only twice last season and has a legitimate shot to join the elite 40-40 club.

    Assuming Yelich has no lingering problems with his knee, this one isn't especially close.

    Advantage: Yelich

Defense

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Since Judge and Yelich both primarily played right field in 2019, we can turn to the defensive metrics with some confidence.

    In 2019, Judge ranked second among right fielders in ultimate zone rating with a mark of 12.7, per FanGraphs (Mookie Betts paced baseball with a 12.9 UZR). Yelich, meanwhile, posted a 0.4 UZR for his play in right.

    A look at defensive runs saved paints an even starker contrast. Judge tied for the lead among right fielders with 20 DRS, while Yelich posted minus-four.

    Their career marks in right don't change the picture much:

    • Judge (27.8 UZR, 45 DRS)
    • Yelich (4.2 UZR, minus-one DRS)

    You can argue the merits of defensive stats, but Judge is inarguably the more valuable fielder. And we'd be remiss if we didn't link to a clip of that effortless howitzer arm.

    Advantage: Judge

On-Base Abilities and Plate Discipline

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Between 2000 and 2019, MLB's strikeout percentage spiked from 16.5 percent to 23.0 percent. At the same time, home runs hit an all-time high of 6,776 leaguewide in '19. We are living in a swing-from-the-heels era, and Judge is one of its poster boys.

    In 2017, Judge led the American League with 52 home runs but also led baseball with 208 strikeouts. In 112 games in 2018, he hit 27 homers and struck out 152 times. In 2019, he hit 27 home runs and whiffed 141 times in 102 games.

    Yelich, meanwhile, struck out 118 times last season in 130 games and has never struck out more than 138 times in a single season. He also posted on-base percentages of .402 and .429 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Contrarily, Judge saw his OBP fall to .381 last season off a career mark of .394.

    If you still care about batting average, Yelich is a .301 career hitter, while Judge's career average is .273. That said, for his career, Judge has Yelich beat in OBP, .394 to .383.

    The chasm isn't huge despite Judge's strikeout tendencies, but this one tips to Yelich.

    Advantage: Yelich

Power

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    Sarah Stier/Associated Press

    Judge, as mentioned, swatted an eye-opening 52 home runs in 2017, shattering Joe DiMaggio's 1936 Yankees rookie record of 29 (a mark Judge exceeded in a mere 82 games). Had he not been hampered by injuries the past two seasons, it's easy to imagine him having matched or surpassed that mark.

    He is, by any definition, the embodiment of a slugger. You expect him to launch the ball into the stratosphere every time he steps to the plate.

    Yelich is no slouch when it comes to clearing fences. After never hitting more than 21 homers in a season between 2013 and 2017 with the Miami Marlins, Yelich has hit 36 and 44 homers in his first two campaigns with the Brewers.

    Judge ranked No. 8 in baseball in 2019 with an average exit velocity of 118.1 mph, according to MLB.com's StatCast data. Yelich, however, was right behind him in the hard-hitting department, tied for No. 9 with an average exit velocity of 117.9 mph.

    If you're asking who is capable of hitting more home runs in a full season and who boasts more raw thump, it's Judge. But Yelich has the potential to be a perennial 35-40 home run hitter.

    Advantage: Judge

Verdict

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Again, this isn't an easy choice, and there isn't a wrong answer. But we're going with Yelich.

    The only area where Judge has an unassailable advantage is defense. And given his early injury issues, he might have to move to a less strenuous position such as first base or designated hitter at least part time in the future.

    Judge is a prodigious slugger and a great athlete. Right now, though, Yelich looks like a more durable and slightly more complete player to build a franchise around.

    We're taking: Yelich

                        

    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.