TAMPA — Here’s a scary thought for opposing pitchers: Near-unanimous MVP Aaron Judge said he didn’t reach all his goals last year.
He set the American League record with 62 home runs, nearly won a batting title and a Triple Crown, played a near-perfect right field (and center field) and was almost never caught as a base stealer.
He can do better?
“I missed a couple marks,” Judge, straight-faced, told The Post.
It’s hard to imagine how he could possibly improve. Perhaps there was a week he could have hit another homer or two. Or even a month. But the season? Hard to see it.
The postseason is his overriding concern, but I was asking about personal goals. Of course I questioned what those missed marks could possibly be in one of the greatest seasons anyone’s ever put together.
“I can’t tell you that,” Judge said with his patented smile.
That’s OK. I checked with Anthony Rizzo, who he likes more, and Rizzo said Judge won’t tell him, either (he probably knows not even to ask).
The secrecy could be rooted in superstition, but I suspect modesty. He’s a smart guy and knows no one wants to hear someone thinks they might hit 70 home runs. Or 75? Do we hear 80?
He has goals again (also secret), which help keep him motivated, he says.
“Every year,” he said. “I got ’em in my notes.”
Judge is an honest fellow by nature, but candor and modesty are sometimes incompatible. Publicly he occasionally reverts to platitudes. He said he “just has to do his job,” which he defined as 1) “batting somewhere in the middle of the lineup,” 2) “keeping the chains moving,” and 3) “getting on base for the guys behind me.”
He does do some of that, too, but no one would suggest those roles are primary. The reality is, he will do whatever’s necessary, including batting leadoff. That worked last year when D.J. LeMahieu was out and Judge was on his way to the hallowed Roger Maris record, but presumably won’t be necessary again.
Harrison Bader remarked the other day that the rest of the team, which includes two former MVPs (Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson), a two-time batting champion (LeMahieu), the cleanup hitter for a historic champion (Rizzo) and other big talents, is merely striving hard to win “best supporting actor” to the clear leading man.
“That’s funny,” Judge said.
“I’m just trying to support them, too,” he added.
If he’s aiming to play both roles, who’s to doubt him.
Judge led baseball in home runs by more than a third (he had 34.7 percent more homers than Kyle Schwarber). But he isn’t merely a home run hitter.
“He’s a baseball player. He’s not really a slugger,” Gerrit Cole said.
He’s the best right fielder in the league, often leaping beyond the wall’s height to bring back would-be homers, and making throws so true they are not to be believed.
He’s also one of the better center fielders. And he may be (read as likely) called upon to man that key spot Opening Day with Bader almost sure to be on the shelf. Boone and Judge have discussed it. And Judge’s response, predictably, was tantamount to “whatever you need.”
He’s a terrific base stealer who only got caught once.
He does it all, even away from the game. He’s a natural ambassador, frequently taking time to treat fans to a picture or an autograph. He seems to sincerely enjoy that role, too.
He’s now officially the captain, and what a great one he makes. Some Yankees higher-ups were previously determined not to ever bestow that honor on anyone again since it didn’t always carry weight or value. But in this case, he is the deserved captain, by far the best player and the most important voice who also has everyone’s interests at heart.
He’s a team guy who understands the most important goal is the World Series. That’s no secret goal, though.
“If we go out there and have a winning season and put ourselves in position in the playoffs I think we’ll be happy no matter what the stats are,” he said.
He’s the near perfect player and employee, in ability and attitude, the indispensable man on MLB’s marquee franchise. His 11 WAR from last year sells him short. In the second half, when he posted a near 1.300 OPS, the rest of the team was just about half that.
The Yankees’ 99 wins were symbolic. But does that 11 WAR mean they still would have won 88 without him? Seems ridiculous.
There’s almost no way he could have done better. Or realistically, will do better.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Judge said. “Hopefully, we hit these marks this year.”
A few of his star teammates don’t doubt that he expects more — Rizzo, Cole and Stanton among them. Rizzo is like the rest of us. “Hopefully, we get to see an encore,” he said.
Cole agreed he’d never seen anything like it.
Jose Trevino said he has, once before. “In the movies,” Trevino said. “I saw ‘61*’.”
Which wasn’t quite as good. But close.
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