The Yankees are on track for their best season since 1998, and Aaron Judge is putting together the best season of his career.

Given that Judge had a convincing case for American League MVP in 2017, it says a lot about how he is performing so far this season.

Judge has evolved as a player since then. His strikeout rate was over 30% during his first two full seasons in the majors in 2017 and 2018. He was still insanely productive in those years, but he cut the strikeout rate to 25% in 2021 and is on track for about the same rate this season. He is making more contact, and with his strength, that is only a good thing.

Judge’s walk rate is down to about 11% over the last two seasons compared to 18.7% in 2017, but that is likely due to his increased contact skills. The decreased walk rate does not mean less production either.

In Judge’s 2017 season, he hit for a 174 wRC+, which is an insanely good 74% better than league average. Despite the walk rate, Judge currently sits with a 199 wRC+ in 2022, a whopping 99% better than league average.

This has put Judge back in the MVP conversation, and rightfully so. He is the favorite when looking at all of the odds right now. The question is, who is his main challenger? While Shohei Ohtani isn’t have as good of a year as last year, if he goes on a tear he could win it again. But Judge is pretty firmly ahead of him as we stand currently. Mike Trout is healthy again and playing at an elite level, but he is at 3.1 WAR compared to Judge’s 3.7 right now. When looking at the stats, the main challenger should be Cleveland Guardians third baseman José Ramírez.

Ramírez is slightly behind Judge in WAR with 3.5, and his wRC+ is great as well at 186. He also only has 17 strikeouts on the season, which in my opinion should not be the main reason anyone votes for him over Judge, but that will inevitably be a narrative that sways some voters. What might help Judge is the defensive side of the ball. Ramírez is not having as good of a defensive season as usual, and Judge has played a ton of center fielder for the Yankees, which increases his value.

There are a lot of statistical categories where there is not a lot of separation between Judge and Ramírez, and that means it could be a two-way race for the award. If Judge continues his level of play and the Yankees keep winning, it will be tough to deny him this time around.

Photo Credit: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News

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