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Even though neither player’s career is even close to being over, the Aaron Judge vs Bryce Harper debate has already begun.
Both are surely going to end up being among the best players of their generation and could one day be considered among the greatest outfielders of all time. But who has had the better career and who will go down as the better player?
Aaron Judge vs Bryce Harper
Naturally, the Harper vs Judge debate is a difficult one because both players have their strengths. Proving a stats comparison of Judge and Harper is a good start but isn’t nearly enough. That’s why we wanted to look at the numbers but also look beyond the numbers to compare Judge and Harper.
Needless to say, both Judge and Harper are among MLB’s elite players in large part because of their power. Both have an impressive amount of power, but Judge has a clear advantage in this area. His career slugging percentage is more than 50 points higher than Harper’s and is nearly at .600. Judge also earns huge points for his 62-homer season in 2002 not to mention the 52 home runs he hit during his first full season in the big leagues in 2017, leading the American League both years.
On the other hand, Harper has showcased consistent power throughout his career but has only surpassed 40 home runs once. In fact, the 2015 season is the only time Harper hit more than 35 home runs in a season. While Harper should easily surpass 300 career home runs and perhaps reach 400 or 500, his power has declined somewhat following Tommy John surgery whereas Judge has had no such problem.
Both Judge and Harper are better at hitting for an average than most people recognize. However, they are roughly even in this category.
Judge might have a slight edge because his career average is a little higher, but both are hovering around .280. In fairness, Harper has had three seasons in which he’s hit over .300 whereas Judge has just one.
However, Harper also has more years in the majors. Also, outside of his shortened rookie season, Judge has hit under .270 just once while Harper has had four seasons hitting below that mark, making Judge a slightly more consistent performer when it comes to hitting for average.
This is another category where it’s tough to differentiate Judge from Harper, as neither has ever won a Gold Glove. To Harper’s credit, he was a catcher in high school and college before transitioning to the outfield. During his career, he’s played all three outfield positions effectively. He’s surely athletic enough to cover plenty of ground while his strong arm has been an asset as well.
However, after needing Tommy John surgery following the 2022 season, it’s unclear if and when Harper will return to being a full-time outfielder and if his arm strength will continue to be a weapon.
On the other hand, Judge has surpassed modest expectations for his defense. Like Harper, he possesses a strong arm that plays well in right field. But Judge has also shown plenty of range for someone who is 6’7’’ and 280 pounds, making several highlight-reel catches. He’s also been able to play center field for the Yankees, starting over 100 games there, mostly out of need. Given the value that he’s provided to the Yankees in the outfield, Judge is close to equal footing with Harper defensively.
Outside of their hitting and defense, Judge and Harper both bring something to the table. While Harper has often been criticized for his brash style of cockiness, that’s not always a negative. If nothing else, he’s a high-energy and enthusiastic player who brings confidence, drive, and a strong work ethic. Those are all traits that can rub off on his teammates and make them better players.
Of course, Judge isn’t exactly a cancer in the clubhouse. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. Judge isn’t necessarily going to be vocal, but he will lead by example.
He has a quiet confidence about him and has always been well-liked by his teammates. After signing his nine-year, $360 million contract, Judge was named captain of the Yankees. He more than deserves such a title and is the perfect person to follow in the footsteps of Derek Jeter and other Yankee legends. In fact, his leadership and other intangibles no doubt made the Yankees comfortable signing him to that contract.
Like it or not, statistics and awards mean a lot in baseball, which is why MLB players with the most MVPs usually end up being considered among the best of all time. Coming out of the 2022 season, Harper might have a slight edge on his trophy case, as he owns two MVP awards, and two Silver Sluggers, and has been named an all-star seven times.
Judge, meanwhile, has just four all-star selections and one MVP. However, he has three Silver Sluggers and led the American League in RBIs in 2022, something Harper has failed to do in the National League. For what it’s worth, both players took home Rookie of the Year honors early in their careers.
With both Harper and Judge having plenty of years ahead of them, it’d be a little unfair to render a verdict right now. However, Judge might have a slight edge over Harper right now. Any edge that Harper has statistically is likely related to the fact that he was in the league three-plus years before Judge, yet is still younger.
But the fact that Judge is perhaps the greatest power hitter of the current generation and is still a well-rounded player gives him an advantage over just about anyone in the game outside of Mike Trout. Harper also has some lingering questions about what he’ll be like after Tommy John surgery. That’s enough to give Judge the edge in a head-to-head debate with Harper.