Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
We'll be talking about Pete Alonso and Aaron Judge for years to come, especially if their careers keep soaring from here. How lucky are we to have dueling sluggers with personality plus tearing up the same baseball town at the same time?
Alonso, who broke Judge's rookie home run record last season, likely will add another connection to Judge on Monday, when the National League Rookie of the Year is announced. The Mets first baseman must be the choice, unless there is a significant tear in the space-time continuum or something similarly seismic. Judge won the AL Award in 2017 when he set the homer record Alonso (53 homers) eventually beat by one.
With all these links between the two, comparisons are natural. Who's better? Where will their careers end up? SNY asked some baseball brains to talk about the similarities and differences between the sluggers and we looked at some numbers from their respective rookie seasons.
The result was enough data to give Alonso and Judge plenty to kick around when they get together for that celebratory dinner they talked about last September.
Carlos Peña, the former slugger who won the AL Home Run Crown in 2009, likes to tell a story about Alonso from the MLB All-Star Game this season. Peña was at Progressive Field as part of his duties as an analyst for MLB Network when he ran across Alonso.
Peña thought Alonso wanted to talk hitting, especially because of all the home runs he'd hit. Instead, Alonso said, "Whatcha got? You were a great first baseman. Give me something. How do I become a better first baseman?"
The two talked footwork. Perhaps it sounds counter-intuitive, but Peña told him, "You field with your feet. The moment your feet stop, the problems start."
Added Peña: "I was impressed with his desire to be a very good first baseman. I love that. This guy cares about his defense and you can see it."
Diligence is something Alonso and Judge share. Judge had a cup of coffee in the majors in 2016 and it was a strikeout-fest -- he whiffed 42 times in 84 at-bats.
But Judge exploded in 2017, finishing second in the AL MVP voting, topped the AL in homers and was second overall and also finished second in the majors in OPS (1.049), OPS-plus (171) and runs (128).
He also led MLB in baseball-reference's version of WAR (8.1) and was third in the majors in at-bats per home run (10.4) and on-base percentage (.422).
"The cool thing about Judge is that he's shown an incredible ability at adjusting," Peña said. "People were writing him off because he struck out so much. You get buried in the Bronx and many just stay buried. He worked at his craft. Now I look and I don't see him in another uniform, ever.
"The degree of difficulty for Judge has been higher, in a sense, because of his size," Peña added, noting that it's rare for a player 6-7 and 282 pounds to exhibit the kind of grace and precision Judge has at the plate and in the field.
"Now Alonso, hitting 53 home runs, that's incredible. But we haven't seen him be challenged and prodded in the same way we've seen with Judge," Peña said. "Alonso has never failed at hitting."
He certainly didn't in 2019, when he led the majors in homers, was second in AB/HR (11.3), third in total bases (348, eight more than Judge in 2017) and first in the NL and third overall in extra-base hits (85, six more than Judge). Alonso was also 10thamong NL position players with 5.0 bWAR.
Even with all that and a .941 OPS and a 148 OPS-plus, he was not a finalist for NL MVP, meaning he can't finish any higher than fourth.
As college players, Alonso and Judge had "elite, freakish strength," recalls a scout who watched them in school. They didn't have crazy college homer totals, however.
Judge, the scout said, didn't even put on "a light show" during batting practices at Fresno State. At the University of Florida, though, Alonso did. "It was ball after ball after ball he'd hit out," the scout said.
At the time, the scout believed both would be above-average power hitters. "But 50-plus homers? No," he added.
Judge was an interesting player, but nothing to rave about in reports, the scout said. "When I saw him at Fresno, all he did was wave at breaking balls," he said. "He had elevated strikeout numbers."
Ultimately, the scout admitted something every scout likely has had to confess: "I whiffed on Judge. I was light on him."
So, perhaps, was another scout who watched both players coming up through the minors. While he says he believed Alonso would be a star, this scout thought Judge "had more holes in his swing. I didn't think he'd have the success he's had. He still strikes out a lot.
"You could see Judge's size and he'd take BP in Trenton (the Yankees' Double-A team) and Scranton (Triple-A) and hit balls a country mile. But, to his credit, he's made himself a better hitter. You can get him inside and on breaking pitches.
"I think Alonso is more disciplined and doesn't have as big a swing, yet he still generates power and has quickness. They both have a swing where the ball just takes off, like it has a second gear."
The bat-on-ball sound when both are hitting is different, too. "When you watch BP with major league players and minor league players, the ball looks and sounds different coming off the bat of the major leaguers," the second scout said. "Those two guys, when you watch BP, they separate themselves from the major league hitters.
"You don't see that very often."
So which of these sluggers is better? It's not an easy question. Maybe Peña had the most reasonable answer.
"I want them both," he said. "That is the only answer. I want their makeup. I want their talent. And guess what? They play different positions, so I can have them both. Thank you!"
Judge is a tremendous defensive right fielder and just won the 2019 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at the position, so he probably offers glove value that Alonso, despite his improvement at first base, does not.
"It's tough to choose, but, all things being equal, you take the better defender," said the first scout.
But Alonso turns 25 in December and Judge is already 27 and in the small sample size that is their careers, Judge has had two seasons impacted by injury. The Polar Bear played 161 games as a rookie. After playing 155 games as a rookie, Judge slipped to 112 games in 2018 and 102 games in 2019.
If they stay healthy, who knows what both could accomplish? The first scout is thinking big.
"I think they both have a chance to hit 400 home runs, with a shot at 500," he said. "Could Judge hit 40 home runs a year the next 10 years, in that ballpark? He'd only be 37.
"Let's give Alonso 10 years at 35 or 40 home runs. With 53 this year, if he hits 30-35 over the next 10 years, that puts him at 400. That's not bonkers."
As mentioned, Alonso homered every 11.3 at-bats last year. Over his career, Judge has homered every 12.9 at-bats. Babe Ruth's career AB/HR was 11.8. Giancarlo Stanton, the active leader among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances, is at 13.8. Mike Trout is at 15.2.
Here's how the second scout sees it: "Judge is a better overall athlete. Alonso is a better hitter. Both will have future All-Star careers. Judge is a little older. He's had that injury bug.
"The sky is really the limit for both kids. Both of them have real good personalities. There are no negatives. The fans like them. Even Red Sox fans like Judge and Philly fans like Alonso. How do you root against them?
"It's good for baseball on a national level. I can see them doing commercials together."