My favorite thing about the 2017 season was not the fact that there were more home runs than any other season, or the impressive pitching performances of Chris Sale, or even the thrilling World Series between the Astros and Dodgers. The most amazing thing about baseball in 2017 is the height difference between the American League’s two best players, Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge. I will never get tired of the fact that two players can be so great and be built so differently.
Aaron Judge is a giant of an outfielder, listed at 6’7″ and 282 lbs. Jose Altuve 5’6″ and 165 lbs. Judge is built like Rob Gronkowski or an NBA small forward, and crushes the baseball like no one else in the game except Giancarlo Stanton (who edged out Joey Votto for the National League MVP). I used to describe Altuve as “Dustin Pedroia on steroids.” I was not accusing Altuve of taking performance enhancing drugs, but rather pointing out that everything that distinguishes Pedroia is magnified in Altuve. Smaller. Scrappier. Etc. But that comparison was not fair to Altuve as he only continued to get better and better. To his credit, Pedroia was the American League’s MVP in 2008, but his MVP season was inferior to Altuve’s 2017.
Going by Wins Above Replacement on Baseball Reference, Altuve was an 8.3, compared to Judge’s 8.1. Both had incredible seasons, and while I struggle wrapping my head around how WAR is calculated, I believe in the stat’s validity because of the players that top the all time list. Pedroia was 6.9 WAR player in 2008, playing the same position as Altuve. It is amazing how close Judge was to Altuve statistically considering how different they are.
Both Judge and Altuve are stars on the rise. I wrote last week that I thought Judge would host SNL someday, and Altuve has already made a cameo on the show. Their presence in 2017 on the biggest stages in Major League baseball also serves as an inspiration for people with unconventional baseball bodies. Maybe more people as big as Judge will be convinced to play the field when most baseball players that tall become pitchers. Altuve is for baseball what Isaiah Thomas is for basketball: proof that skill and hard work really can compensate from an inherent lack of size. It does not just happen in movies anymore.