By Edward Egros
FOX Sports MLB Betting Analyst
How nice it must feel to be Aaron Judge. As a nod to the young MLB legend’s last name, Yankees faithful don judicial robes at every homestand in the ultimate expression of fandom. That must give the superstar slugger the warm fuzzies.
And if seeing his personal fan club dressed identically at the ballpark doesn’t do it for Aaron, being proven right certainly should. From a gambling perspective, Judge is the new favorite to win AL MVP at FOX Bet (+250).
The slugger turned down a contract extension worth more than $213 million from the Yankees because reportedly, it didn’t meet his magic number. So far, whatever that magic number may be, the NYY outfielder has proven he’s worth every penny of it and more. Judge has posted a five home-run lead over the rest of MLB through a quarter of the season.
But what’s the jury’s verdict when it comes to betting on Judge to win the award? Should we lock in on Aaron now, or should we consider investing that wager elsewhere?
Let’s dig into the data to see if the odds are really in his favor.
And here’s a shocker. Using those metrics, Aaron Judge should actually have EVEN MORE home runs than the 21 he has hammered this season.
How is that possible? I’m glad you asked.
So the one thing that makes MLB especially unique is that the playing conditions for every ballpark are different. Not only are the dimensions of the outfield walls not uniform, environmental conditions like elevation, temperature and wind can affect the game in disparate ways.
Statcast uses these variables to determine if a flyout at one ballpark had been a home run at another and vice versa. This formula gives us expected home runs (xHR). Although 50 games have already been played, not all schedules have been equal. Ultimately, some hitters have had to play in pitcher-friendly ballparks which means they are due for an uptick.
But back to our guy in pinstripes who we might be putting some cash on for AL MVP.
Currently, Judge has 23.4 xHR. That means he has 21 actual home runs as he has had approximately two home runs nullified because of where he has played so far this season. That negative differential ranks tenth in baseball, so this indicates that Judge is one slugger who’s most likely to get even hotter on the plate.
Not only should Judge have more round-trippers, but his lead in the home-run race should also be even bigger. Pete Alonso ranks second in xHR with 15.4, but Judge’s five home-run lead over Alonso should actually be closer to eight!
This Statcast approach can also categorize all potential home runs as “no doubters” — balls that would be home runs in all 30 ballparks. With three more than second place, Aaron Judge has 12 of these no doubters.
If MVPs were awarded simply because of power slugging, Aaron Judge would be the straightforward bet and probably with juicer odds. That’s where fWAR comes in.
Often times the player with the highest fWAR at the end of the season wins MVP. While Judge leads the AL in fWAR (3.2), his lead is proportionally smaller over players like Boston’s Rafael Devers (also 3.2 fWAR) and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez (3.1).
There’s an explanation for this discrepancy, and it could be because of defense.
The Outs Above Average (OAA) stat attempts to explain how many outs a fielder saved above average fielding. Every batted ball is assigned a probability of an out being recorded. For an outfielder, variables include the distance traveled, and the time needed to make the catch. These probabilities for individual plays are then added or subtracted based on if the play was made to the overall score. We can then add up each fielder’s OAA to get a season total.
Judge, it turns out, has been more than adequate defensively. Among all right fielders, Judge ranks seventh with two OAA. The other fWAR leaders play different positions, and none in the top five have better defensive metrics. As a matter of fact, only the Angels’ Mike Trout has as many outs above average. And it’s worth noting that Trout plays center field, a position that allows more opportunities to have a higher OAA.
How does Judge fare against those other two studs?
His box score and Statcast numbers beat Trout’s. However, Ohtani is a wild card — partly because his pitching has produced a ton of strikeouts. But even if you add his hitting and pitching fWAR numbers, it still does not add up to Judge’s.
With all this evidence, there’s clearly only one decision the jury can make. Now is the time to bet on Judge to win MVP!
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