In an Instagram Live last week, Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard called Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge “the new Derek Jeter.” How accurate is that claim?
Last week, with the NBA and MLB seasons both on hold, Damian Lillard and Aaron Judge teamed up on Adidas’ Instagram to give their fans a live video. The two stars chatted about life in quarantine, Kobe Bryant, and preparation for if and when their seasons return.
But Lillard had quite the praise for the Yankees outfielder.
“I be feeling like you’re the new Derek Jeter, bruh,” Lillard said. “I don’t think you’re trying to, like, fill his shoes, but… I feel like you got that type of presence… Derek Jeter vibes.”
For anyone to be compared to The Captain, a recently-elected, near-unanimous Hall of Famer, is a huge claim, but does Dame have any kind of point? Is Aaron Judge the new Derek Jeter?
Let’s break it down.
Why he is:
Jeter always talked about the team in his interviews. Very seldom did he take in the moment when he had a personal accolade. He admitted that he didn’t want to talk much about his 3,000th hit or his final game at Yankee Stadium because of his nerves, but it was always team first for the former Yankees shortstop.
Even when the now-Marlins CEO was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this past January, he still didn’t bask much in his own glory. He even claimed he wasn’t sure what to expect on election day (probably a lie, but whatever). Even when he came up one vote shy of being the second unanimous vote into the Hall, he didn’t harp on that. Instead, he said that it’s difficult to get that many people to even agree on anything, so that was the honor itself.
When another former Yankee great, Alex Rodriguez, asked Aaron Judge about him having the five hardest hit balls of the season (prior to the 2017 All Star Game), Judge said he was taking it “one day at a time.” I’m not even sure how that’s an answer to the question, but it’s always the right answer.
“He’s a little bit like Derek to me,” former Yankees manager Joe Girardi said in 2017. “He’s got a smile all the time, he loves to play the game, you always think he’s gonna do the right thing on the field and off the field…he plays the game to win all the time and that’s the most important thing to him…That’s the way Derek was when he was young.”
Presence in the baseball world
According to ESPN, Aaron Judge has led all of baseball in sold jerseys for three-consecutive years. He’s had three full seasons. Derek Jeter’s jersey is the highest selling jersey of all time, also according to ESPN.
When Bob Sheppard read the Yankee lineups, Derek Jeter’s name always got the biggest ovation, even when Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Tino Martinez were in the lineup. Now, when Paul Olden reads it, he emphatically says Judge’s name and number, and it’s now the loudest ovation in the park.
The Yankees have the Judge’s Chambers, a section of seats in right field that emulate a juror section. Fans wear the gowns of a judge, and even have wigs from the 1700s. The Yankees never did anything like that for any player until Judge came to town.
For years, Jeter was by far the most popular player in all of baseball, let alone the Bronx. The same goes for Judge. His 6’7”, 282-pound figure is enough of a marketing tool itself. Judge even got a standing ovation in his MLB debut, where he blasted a home run off the batters’ eye in center field of Yankee Stadium. They both have handled the media, pressure and presence brought upon them extraordinarily well.
Derek Jeter played 158 postseason games in his career, nearly another full162-game regular season. In the postseason, Jeter slashed .308/.374/.465 with 20 home runs and 61 RBI. Two of his most iconic moments, the flip, and his long walk off home run, came in the postseason. His career numbers? .310/.377/.440, with a 162-game average of 15 home runs and 77 RBI. He might have been a better player in October (and November) than he was from March to September.
As for Judge, we all remember when he set the record for most strikeouts in a postseason series. He struck out 16 times in the 2017 ALDS against the Indians. However, outside of that series, Judge has shown a flair of the dramatic himself. Including that series, Judge’s postseason slashline is .257/.375/.535. He hit a home run in both Wild Card games he played in, and has four home runs in 13 ALCS games. His 162-game pace with his postseason numbers would add up to 48 home runs and 102 RBI. His 162-game average in the regular season would be 45 home runs and 101 RBI, with a .273/.394/.558 slashline.
While his postseason slashline is a bit worse than the regular season, Judge has still managed come up huge in big moments against the game’s best pitchers in October.
Why he isn’t:
He hasn’t won anything… yet
While this isn’t necessarily the fault of his own, the Yankees’ history is predicated on success in October. Judge has yet to play in a World Series game, while Derek Jeter won five titles.
Repeating five titles in a 14-season span would be unbelievable to see. Winning four in five years may never happen again. And of course, it wasn’t just Derek Jeter carrying the Yankees to those titles. While he did win the 2000 World Series Most Valuable Player Award, those teams were stacked. Bernie Williams slashed .323/.408/.538 from 1996 to 2002. Paul O’Neill’s slashline from 1994 to 1998 was .318/.408/.538. Tino Martinez came in second place in the 1997 American League MVP voting. That dynasty is one of the best ever.
Of course, now the Yankees have an opportunity to once again be a dynasty. The once-called Baby Bombers now have plenty of postseason success, and if Judge wants to be known as the next Derek Jeter, even though Judge has power Jeter dreamed of having, he needs to win a couple of titles, at minimum.
Judge doesn’t even have to be the best player on the team. Jeter arguably never was. But Jeter won.
Jeter had just six stints on the then-disabled list, four of them in 2013. Jeter played just 17 games in 2013. A broken ankle in the 2012 ALCS lingered into the following season, and while he returned a couple of times, the rest of his leg was compromised.
Judge has already had two separate stints on the Injured List, both of which he missed a significant amount of time.
While he played through it, Judge also had a bad shoulder for the second half of his rookie season. He got it taken care of that offseason, but Judge has now had four major injuries in his young career. Most recently, he suffered a stress fracture in his rib in September diving for a ball. The Yankees didn’t know the severity of the injury until this past Spring Training. If the season started on time, Judge probably would have started the season on the injured list. He also landed on the then-DL at the end of the 2016 season.
So that is five major injuries in five seasons for Judge.
When Derek Jeter got hurt, you were surprised. When Aaron Judge gets hurt, Yankee fans say “not again.”
One of Jeter’s best abilities was his availability. But for Judge, it feels like a countdown to when his next Injured List stint will be. Judge has played in more than 112 games just once since his rookie season. From Jeter’s rookie year until his retirement, he played fewer than 112 games just once, and had 17 seasons where he played more than 130 games.
If this keeps up for Judge, he’ll be known as an all-time “what if” rather than the Yankees’ next all-timer.