I know I am overthinking it, but the Clark Kent-Superman thing always bothered me. Kent worked at a newspaper surrounded by, in theory, observant folks, and when it came to facial recognition between him and Superman, the whole disguise was a pair of glasses. Really?
Fill in your own mean-spirited joke about newspaper people, but any walk of life should have noticed the difference. The before and after was a pair of glasses, for goodness sake.
But if you watched Aaron Judge late last season — forgive the tortured analogy — could you really have seen Superman coming? Not with Clark Kent’s glasses, not even with rose-colored ones.
To say that the 2016 version was overmatched is to understate overmatched. He struck out in half his at-bats, and that did not even justify how not-ready-for-prime-time he looked.
The Yankees were unsure enough about Judge that they put him in a right-field competition against Aaron Hicks, who hit .217 last year, and it was not until the final week of March that Judge was tabbed the starter. The hope was .260 with 20-25 homers and the avoidance of enough strikeouts to make his presence have value.
So they were praying for Mike Cameron and ended up with Mike Trout — quite the before/after.
Going into the weekend, Judge led the AL in the Triple Crown categories, and check out the Ruthian fashion in which he led in on-base percentage (by 51 points) and slugging percentage (118 points). Yes, some of this reflects Trout’s injury absence costing him enough plate appearances to qualify. But here is the thing: We already knew Trout was a baseball superhero. There was no Clark Kent-to-Superman transformation necessary.
And with roughly half the games played, pitchers have yet to find this edition of Judge’s Kryptonite. Despite being on pace to strike out nearly 200 times, Judge would be described as a discipline hitter. He led the AL in walks — and, yes, some of that is due to pitchers not wanting to work anywhere near his nitro zones.
But remember how the Yankees would have been happy if Judge hit .260 this year? Well, he was hitting .259 after falling behind 0-2 in the count and had the majors’ best OPS (.867) with two strikes (minimum 50 plate appearances in that situation).
By the way, Judge also is a fine fielder, baserunner and excellent teammate. That is why he leads Hardball’s midseason awards:
Aaron Judge, Yankees
Aaron Judge, Yankees
But now a word on Trout. For most of five seasons Trout has been at the center of a debate whether the MVP should/could come from a non-playoff team or non-contender. The argument for him has been he is the best player and should not have points deducted because his club is not good enough around him.
Trout was the best player in the world when he injured his left thumb, but the Angels were 26-27. They more than held their own without him, going 15-14 and hanging in the wild-card race. It forces us to think about value yet again.
Also, good luck deciding how to handle the Astros’ all-deserving trio of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer.
2. Correa, Astros. 3. Corey Dickerson, Rays. 4. Jose Ramirez, Indians. 5. Altuve.
Alcides Escobar/Alex Gordon/Jorge Soler, Royals
Because of the presence of so many big players in their walk year (Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas), it was understood this was the last chance to do big things with this core group. To do so that would mean the core group and the key newcomer (Soler) would have to excel. But Escobar and Gordon are letting down the old guard, and Soler had to be demoted to the minors for a month.
2. Rougned Odor, Rangers. 3. Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox. 4. Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays. 5. Danny Espinosa, Angels.
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Both Goldschmidt and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado produce significantly better at their offensively favorable homes. I give Goldschmidt the slight nod due to a superior hitting eye and being able to bring some untraditional speed to first base, while acknowledging Arenado’s defensive brilliance at third base. What if I told you before the season that you might be able to make a better MVP case for three Nationals (Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman) than Harper — though Harper is having a sensational season? And try to come to peace with who is the most valuable Dodger among Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Justin Turner.
2. Arenado, Rockies. 3. Rendon, Nationals. 4. Joey Votto, Reds. 5. Bellinger, Dodgers.
Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
The near-mythical return/star turn in the World Series made us think Schwarber was one of those guys who could roll out of bed and hit. But the plodding Cubs could not keep watching him fail at the one skill that is supposed to differentiate him, and he was sent to the minors. He is enduring in 2017 what Michael Conforto did last year (both were top-10 picks in 2014), and my suspicion is — like Conforto — Schwarber will come back just fine.
2. Starling Marte, Pirates. 3. Carlos Gonzalez/Ian Desmond, Rockies. 4. Brandon Crawford, Giants. 5. Jose Reyes, Mets.
AL Cy Young
Chris Sale, Red Sox
His OPS against was 38 points better than any other AL starter (going into the weekend), his strikeouts per nine were roughly 1 ¹/₂ better, and the lefty had eight starts of at least seven innings and two or fewer earned runs, three more than any other AL pitcher.
Detroit’s Michael Fulmer, the key piece the Mets dealt for Yoenis Cespedes, has worked at least six innings in 14 of 15 starts, and given up three earned runs or fewer in 13.
2. Jason Vargas, Royals. 3. Fulmer, Tigers. 4. Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox. 5. Ervin Santana, Twins.
AL Anti-Cy Young
Francisco Rodriguez, Tigers
He led the AL in blown saves (six) while having a 7.82 ERA and 1.006 OPS against. Rodriguez lost his closer job, then his job altogether when released by Detroit — in between he complained about his reduced role.
The Orioles triumvirate of Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman were a combined 8-15 with a 6.93 ERA.
2. Gausman/Jimenez/Tilllman, Orioles. 3. Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers. 4. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees. 5. Danny Salazar, Indians.
NL Cy Young
Max Scherzer, Nationals
He leads the NL in ERA and strikeouts. The righty had nine games of at least seven innings and one or zero earned runs. Would a third Cy Young guarantee the Hall of Fame? His biggest competition is Clayton Kershaw, who is seeking his fourth Cy Young. This is a heavyweight bout.
2. Kershaw, Dodgers. 3. Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks. 4. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals. 5. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers.
NL Anti-Cy Young
Bartolo Colon, Braves
At 44 with an 8.16 ERA, the magic just might have run out on Colon, who was designated for assignment by the Braves. The Big Sexy stuff is not as humorous when attached to an ERA as bloated as his belly.
2. John Lackey, Cubs. 3. Matt Moore, Giants. 4. Jake Arrieta, Cubs. 5. Robert Gsellman, Mets.
AL Rookie of the Year
Aaron Judge, Yankees
The race is for second place with Boston’s Andrew Benintendi the favorite — if you can be the favorite to come in second. But it should be noted that the Yankees’ weeding of their 40-man roster has resulted in three of their former farmhands excelling elsewhere as rookies. Ben Gamel was hitting .338 with the Mariners and his Seattle teammate, southpaw James Pazos has emerged as a strong reliever, in particular against lefties, whom he’s holding to a .171 average. Nick Goody, meanwhile has further deepened the Cleveland bullpen with a 1.17 ERA.
2. Benintendi, Red Sox. 3. Jordan Montgomery, Yankees. 4. Gamel, Mariners. 5. Trey Mancini, Orioles.
NL Rookie of the Year
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
What a promising time it is for the game when rookies as special as Judge and Bellinger arrive in the same year. Los Angeles was 44-17 after Bellinger’s arrival, by far the majors’ best record in that time.
2. Kyle Freeland, Rockies. 3. Josh Bell, Pirates. 4. Ian Happ, Cubs. 5. Antonio Senzatela, Rockies.