Judge vs. Betts the new rivalry within Red Sox-Yankees rivalry

From ESPN - July 16, 2017

BOSTON -- Within the rivalry, there have always been rivalries. They are the mini-dramas that help sustain this nearly century-old play known as Yankees-Red Sox. Even when the teams do not finish 1-2 in the standings, a phenomenon that has occurred only 19 times through the 98 seasons since Babe Ruth switched sides, debates have raged over Joe DiMaggio vs. Ted Williams, Thurman Munson vs. Carlton Fisk, Don Mattingly vs. Wade Boggs, Derek Jeter vs. Nomar Garciaparra, Roger Clemens vs. Pedro Martinez, Robinson Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia, Alex Rodriguez vs. David Ortiz, and on and on.

And now, regardless of where the second half of the season takes them, the Yanks and Sox are waging another individual competition. Look out at right field in Fenway Park on Sunday night and you will see them, the pre-eminent power hitter in the game and one of the most dynamic all-around players, this season's early favorite for American League MVP and last year's runner-up.

Aaron Judge vs. Mookie Betts.

Who ya got?

"Wow. Very tough choice," a longtime National League scout said. "I'd love to be selfish and have both."

Sorry. This is not the All-Star Game, when acting AL manager Brad Mills moved Betts to center field to accommodate both him and Judge in the starting lineup. It's our question and our rules, and during the past few days, asked a half-dozen talent evaluators -- two AL executives, three NL scouts and one AL scout -- which star right fielder they would rather have.

The result: three votes for Judge, three votes for Betts. A split decision. Go figure.

"Both players are exciting and will have long careers," said a third AL executive who remained largely noncommittal. "There is probably higher risk with Judge due to his height. Pitchers may find holes at some point. But at the same time, there is clearly huge upside."

A year ago -- even five months ago -- this was not a conversation. Betts had blossomed into a full-fledged superstar, putting together a 2016 season in which he batted .318 with 42 doubles, 31 homers, 113 RBIs, 26 steals, an .897 OPS and 32 defensive runs saved, more than any player at any position, according to Baseball Info Solutions. While Betts was worth 7.8 wins above replacement, second in the AL to eventual MVP Mike Trout, Judge was in Triple-A until mid-August. After the Yankees called him up, he hit .179 with four homers and 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats, a staggering lack of contact that left Judge to compete for a job when he arrived in spring training in February.

But this has been the Season of Judge. He had 30 home runs at the All-Star break, the most since Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis bashed 37 by the midpoint of the 2013 season. Between the enormity of his stature (6-foot-7, 282 pounds) and the sheer force with which he hits a baseball, Judge has become a New York celebrity with his own aptly named rooting section, the "Judge's Chambers," in right field at Yankee Stadium. And his profile rose to even greater heights during the All-Star festivities after he won the Home Run Derby and was described by commissioner Rob Manfred as a player "who can become the face of the game," potential that has also been affixed to Betts over the past year.

Judge is a classic slugger, to be sure. But in watching him play, one is struck by how nimble and athletic he looks in the outfield. The rookie also has a sharp eye at the plate. Although Judge entered the All-Star break on a 205-strikeout pace, he also was leading the league with 61 walks and a .448 on-base percentage.

Yet in our survey, the talent evaluators who chose Judge pointed to his prodigious power at a time when there is a spike in the number of homers being hit across the game.

"He has gotten shorter and quicker with his swing, more selective and disciplined," said one of the NL scouts who chose Judge over Betts. "I understand that Dave Winfield has really helped him, as they are similarly tall and great athletes. Winfield talked to him about not striking out as much and thinking about RBIs, not home runs."


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