The Verdict Is In: Aaron Judge Is MLB’s Most Popular Player
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MLB may be experiencing a youth movement, but it is the league's veterans who remain fans’ favorite players.
A new Morning Consult survey found that about half of self-identified MLB fans (49%) said they have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, making the 30-year-old — who signed a $360 million, nine-year contract over the winter — the league’s most popular player.
Detroit Tigers veteran first baseman Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw scored favorability ratings of 48% and 47%, respectively, to round out the top three. Cabrera has said the upcoming season — his 21st in the big leagues — will be his last.
Among the list’s 25 most popular players, only five are under the age of 30, including Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who scored the highest favorability rating (44%) of any rising MLB star. Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese two-way sensation who’s both among the league’s best pitchers and hitters, did not make fans’ top 25.
Yankees’ Aaron Judge Is MLB’s Most Popular Player
Most popular MLB players, franchises
- Nearly 2 in 5 MLB fans (38%) said they have a favorable opinion of Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels dual-threat superstar and MLB’s highest-paid player, meaning the transcendent star fell outside the league’s top 25 most popular players. The 28-year-old, who won MVP honors after he led Japan to a World Baseball Classic title, could reportedly reach a $600 million payday in free agency.
- Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Minnesota Twins shortstop Carlos Correa scored unfavorability ratings of 14% and 11%, respectively, making them the two least-liked MLB players included in the 77-person survey. In 2017, Altuve and Correa won the World Series with the Houston Astros, which reportedly developed a sign-stealing scheme using illegal electronic equipment.
- The most popular team among MLB fans is the New York Yankees, with 60% of the group saying they have at least a “somewhat favorable” opinion of the 27-time World Series champions, followed by the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, which each scored a favorable rating of 56%.
- The defending World Series champion Astros sit in the bottom third of MLB’s most popular teams with a favorability rating of 46%, tied with the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers.
More Than Half of MLB Fans Support Use of New Pitch Clock
New MLB pitch clock earns positive reviews
- Nearly 3 in 5 MLB fans (56%) and 70% of self-identified avid MLB fans said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” the league’s new use of a 15-second pitch clock when bases are empty. That marks increases of 4 percentage points and 6 points, respectively, compared with the results of a Morning Consult survey in September.
- Respondents who’ve watched at least one MLB exhibition game this year were more supportive of the rule change than average MLB fans and almost as supportive as “avid” MLB fans, with 68% saying they have a favorable opinion of the rule, which some have argued will save the sport from irrelevance. The length of exhibition games during this year’s spring training decreased on average by 26 minutes, according to MLB.
- About 1 in 4 U.S. adults (26%) said they have watched an MLB exhibition game in 2023, compared with 41% of MLB fans and 62% of “avid” MLB fans who said the same.
Can Shohei Ohtani become the face of MLB in the United States?
As part of MLB’s innovation showcase this week, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Karin Timpone stressed the importance of player marketing in driving deeper connections with fans.
“When we did research to identify how we could grow fan engagement with both casual and avid fans, we realized there’s a strong segment of very athletic-oriented fans that want to dive deeper” on specific athletes, regardless of their favorite teams, she said.
The league hosted its first player marketing house during Arizona spring training to create social content, with participation from 28 players across 13 teams. There’s been a focus on showing players’ personalities and human interest stories, Timpone said. Stars are now visible on the homepage of the MLB’s revamped app beginning with this season, which starts on Thursday.
Ohtani, one of those stars, saw his Instagram following increase 109% during the 2023 World Baseball Classic pool play, according to MLB. He now has more than 5 million followers on the platform.
Despite Ohtani’s rising profile, though, his popularity among MLB fans remains lower than that of other stars, per the Morning Consult survey. Perhaps Ohtani, who has drawn comparisons to Babe Ruth, can parlay his success at the WBC into another record-breaking MLB season. If he keeps that up, it’s likely only a matter of time before he starts surpassing U.S.-born players in popularity.
The March 17-19, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,207 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Mark J. Burns is a senior data reporter at Morning Consult covering the business of sports. @markjburns88