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Fantasy Baseball Player Debate: Aaron Judge vs. Bryce Harper

One of the greatest aspects of fantasy sports, and sports in general, are the debates. Whether you’re debating with a co-worker, significant other, friend, or even drunk Uncle Bob at the family reunion, the debates are endless. That’s what brings us here today. In the fantasy baseball world, player debates are everywhere, including in your own mind when trying to make that tough draft-day decision. Well, we’re here to help. Today, we discuss two of the most powerful bats in the game, Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper. Who will have the better 2020? Let’s find out!

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Aaron Judge or Bryce Harper in 2020?

Eric Cross (@EricCross04) – Bryce Harper

Whether it be my 2020 positional rankings or my top-500 dynasty rankings, Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge are very close. While both Harper and Judge have had their fair share of durability issues, let’s focus on recent history. Over the last two seasons, Judge has averaged 107 games played compared to 158 for Harper. Is Harper really the safer option here? Him? Never thought I’d say that about Harper, but it’s the truth here.  He’s also become pretty consistent over the last two years with a .249/103/34/100/13 line in 2018 and .260/98/35/114/15 in 2019.

It wouldn’t shock me if Harper got back to 40 home runs either. His hard contact % has been trending up for three straight seasons while his soft contact % has been trending down. He’s also in one of the best home parks for left-handed power. Judge still has a slight power advantage, but the fact that Harper is safer and adds 10-15 steals gives him the slight edge for me.

Nathan Dokken (@NathanDokken) – Aaron Judge

Analyzing this debate has actually led to me adjusting my rankings – lowering Judge and raising Harper. Harper gets seemingly nothing but bad press, and his batting average is probably not returning to .300+ levels due to extreme drops in his contact rate. Despite all that, he steals double-digit bags while hitting for power and racking up steady R+RBI totals. He has missed time due to injuries, but if that’s what you’re worried about, you can’t sit in Judge’s corner. Judge has played just 112 and 102 games over the past two seasons, but if he can stay healthy he is on the shortlist of favorites to lead MLB in home runs. His consistently high BABIPs mean he can hit .270+ with huge walk rates, adding up to tons of R+RBI. I’ll still rule in favor of Judge by a hair, but Harper’s stolen bases make this a neck-and-neck debate to me.

Mike Kurland @Mike_Kurland) – Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper vs Aaron Judge is a close one for me. They are back to back in my rankings with Harper edging him out. With Harper, you have the high end, all-around upside. He can give you a bit if every category. He has sneakily provided double-digit steals in multiple seasons. Harper even stole 15 just this last year. Yes, I’m aware the batting average may never be over .270 again but I don’t want to rule it out either.

Judge, on the other hand, offers difference-making power. There are fewer stolen bases to be had and the health is becoming a bit of a concern. He does get to hit in one of the best parks in baseball and in one of the best lineups but with speed being at a premium and Harper offering double-digit upside, that’s the true difference-maker for me between the two.

Jorge Montanez (@JMontanez90) – Aaron Judge

The argument for Aaron Judge or Bryce Harper is an extremely close call. Three of our writers, including myself, have then back-to-back in our staff rankings. Harper has the pedigree, having made his debut four years before Judge despite being the same age. Judge has immense power, hitting the ball harder than anyone in the game. The power and home park give Judge a slight edge for me in 2020.

Judge has led baseball in average exit velocity for three straight seasons. Despite striking out more than 30% of the time every year, he’s managed to hit for at least a .272 average. The average output is supported by his Statcast data. The lowest his xBA has been is .277. The only real knock on Judge is his health. After his outstanding rookie season in 2017, Judge has managed only 112 and 102 games the following seasons. Haper meanwhile has managed to stay healthy for the last two seasons. It’s a close call. But I’m taking my chances with Judge.

Mick Ciallela (@themick23) – Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge has not come close to the 52 homers he socked as a rookie in 2017. If we’re basing solely off that standard, he may be considered a disappoint in some circles. But that approach seems to be somewhat by design. He has reduced his launch angle and hit more groundballs in an age when most players are doing the opposite. Because Judge hits the ball extremely hard (he has finished in the top two in hard-hit percentage in all three of his full big league seasons), this approach has resulted in a steady batting average year to year. He has hit between .272 and .284 in all three of his full big league seasons. Of course, if he could reduce his strikeout rate to even 25 percent, he would probably be a .300 hitter. But at this point, that does not seem too likely.

It is tempting to think that Bryce Harper has another .300-plus season in him, and he has increased his hard-hit rate in each of the last three years, which offers some hope. But as we have seen in recent years, he is just as likely to hit below .250 as he is to hit above .300. That type of inconsistency can make for some lean stretches for fantasy owners. The Yankees also scored a full run per game more than the Phillies did last year. Even if that gap shrinks a bit, Judge is still more likely to have opportunities to score and drive in a ton of runs. Because of that, I am giving him a slight edge over Harper in 2020 season-long Roto leagues.

Paul Mammino (@paulmammino) – Aaron Judge

The debate between Judge and Harper is one that I think depends on the day you ask me and my mood that day. The two are extremely similar players with Judge a better bet for average and Harper getting the edge in steals. Typically in these arguments, I’ve tended to lean to the steals side of things but for this one, I prefer Judge at the moment.

The Yankee cornerstone is a mammoth human being with some of the more impressive raw power I have ever seen. While he swings and misses a ton he has impressive opposite-field power which will aid him as long as he calls Yankee Stadium home. He hits second in one of the best lineups in all of baseball and is one of the few players in baseball with 50+ homer power. While both guys carry insane upside and Harper still has the talent to be an easy top 5 guy in a perfect season I think the floor is safer with Judge while not sacrificing too much in the way of upside.

Andrés Chávez (@andres_chavez13) – Aaron Judge

I love Bryce Harper, both in fantasy and real life. I really do. However, if I’m choosing between him and Aaron Judge, I’ll lean with the latter. There is just so much upside with the Yankees’ right fielder if he manages to stay healthy.

Before you play the “health” card to say that Judge is injury-prone, let me remind Harper’s games played since he entered the league:

2012 – 139 | 2013 – 118 | 2014 – 100 | 2015 – 153 | 2016 – 147 | 2017 – 111 | 2018 – 159 | 2019 – 157

Yes, he stayed relatively healthy the last two years, but he has missed large chunks of the season in multiple years.
Judge also missed 60 games in 2019 and 50 in 2018, but as 2017 kindly reminds us, he has 50-homer power. He hits in the heart of one of MLB’s most formidable lineups, and he gets on base nearly 40% of the time just like Harper.

I can understand why one would pick Harper first. He can chip in 10-15 steals, which is nice, and also hits in a good lineup. However, he has surpassed 40 home runs only once and has been around for significantly longer than Judge.
Judge was in the 100th percentile in both hard-hit rate (57.1) and average exit velocity (95.9 mph.) He absolutely, positively punishes the ball. That, combined with his elite walk rate and excellent lineup translates to lots of runs, home runs, and RBI.

The Verdict: Aaron Judge 5-2

Media Credit: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire, Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire, Fox Sports: MLB

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