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Yankees' Aaron Judge Is Chasing More Than Just Home Run Immortality

Zachary D. RymerSeptember 20, 2022

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Whether it's today, tomorrow or any other day between now and the end of the 2022 season, chances are that Aaron Judge is going to break the American League single-season home run record. When it happens, it'll rightfully be seen as a big deal.

In the meantime, let's not lose sight of the other big-deal-type things Judge is doing.

His pursuit of Roger Maris' 61 home runs from 1961 is merely his most visible conquest, as well as the one that's closest to completion. The 6'7", 282-pounder out of Linden, California, didn't add to his total Monday, but only because he and the New York Yankees had the day off. As if in need of something to hold him over, he hit his 58th and 59th homers Sunday.

And so, that's where the 30-year-old Judge is with 16 games to go. He's on pace for 65 long balls, essentially implying that only an ill-fated injury or a power outage the likes of which he's rarely experienced is going to keep him from at least tying Maris. Even one more would secure only the ninth 60-homer season in Major League Baseball history.

Yet even if the highly unlikely possibility of Judge falling short of 60 comes true, his 2022 season nonetheless stands to loom large in the annals of MLB history.


He Doesn't Need 60 to Make Home Run History

AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

Yeah, yeah. Sixty is a nice, round number and all, but the 59 home runs that Judge has now are good enough on their own to put him firmly in "No Slouch" territory.

That these 59 homers put him in a tie for ninth-most in a single season is good, but we can do better by noting that they're the sixth-most by a right-handed hitter. Better still? They're the most by an American League right-handed hitter, a front on which he surpassed Jimmie Foxx (1932) and Hank Greenberg (1938) on Sunday.

MLB @MLB

Two today and 59 this year! <a href="https://twitter.com/TheJudge44?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheJudge44</a> is AMAZING. <a href="https://t.co/35lYCc3iUS">pic.twitter.com/35lYCc3iUS</a>

From here, we can get into how Judge's 11 multi-homer games are tied with Greenberg ('38) and Sammy Sosa (1998) for MLB's single-season record. And then maybe into how little help he's needed from the home run gods, as Statcast puts his expected output at 58.2.

Let's be real, though. If there's one statistic that really gets at how dominant Judge has been this season, it's the one that concerns how many more home runs he has than the next guy on the leaderboard. That's Philadelphia Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber with 39, a full 20 home runs below Judge.

To this extent, Judge is trying to achieve something that could previously only be associated with MLB's O.G. home run hitter, Babe Ruth. He achieved a 20-plus-homer lead on the next-best slugger four times during the 1920s, most recently in 1928.

Which is to say that if Judge hangs on to his lead over Schwarber, he'll have pulled off a home run feat that baseball hasn't seen in nearly a century.


Odds, Ends and Triple Crown(s)

Joshua Bessex/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ah, but there's more to offensive production than just hitting home runs. So much more, in fact, that it actually is possible to make even Judge's 2022 season look like a ho-hum affair.

Take batting runs, which measures how much better or worse than average a batter was in a given season. Ruth in 1921 and Barry Bonds in 2001 are on top at 116, while Judge is...wow, outside the top 40 at 75. Runs created is even less kind, also putting Ruth in '21 and Bonds in '01 on top, but leaving Judge outside the top 100.

So, those things exist. And as arguments against the all-time-ness of Judge's ongoing offensive onslaught, they're not totally invalid.

And yet, they feel a little weaksauce next to, well, this:

MLB @MLB

What a season for Aaron Judge. ๐Ÿคฏ<br><br>(MLB x <a href="https://twitter.com/MattressFirm?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MattressFirm</a>) <a href="https://t.co/4rrn9VT8Am">pic.twitter.com/4rrn9VT8Am</a>

Even setting aside the home runs for a moment, Judge's other counting stats are kinda absurd. He's currently only the 43rd player to ever put up 120-plus runs and RBI, 360-plus total bases and 80-plus extra-base hits in a season. Should he get to, say, 130, 130, 380 and 90, suddenly he'll be on a list with only 17 other players.

Likewise, rate stats like his don't usually go together either. The last time a qualified hitter had both an on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .700 in a season was Bonds in 2004. In the American League? Mark McGwire in 1996.

Though you only have to go back to Jim Thome in 2002 to find the last time an AL hitter had an OPS of at least 1.100, it really should be Judge's 213 OPS+ pictured in that tweet. To be more than 110 percent better than the average hitter in a given season is not a common thing among AL hitters. As of now, it's only Judge and five others in that club.

Now, if only Judge's .316 batting average had but one more point on it. If it did, he'd be free of a tie with Xander Bogaerts for second place behind with Luis Arrรกez among AL hitters. And thus, he'd be in position to claim the Triple Crowns.

Yes, both of them.

There's the ordinary one that counts average, home runs and RBI, and then there's the triple-slash one that counts average, on-base and slugging percentage. Whereas Judge would be the first since Miguel Cabrera in 2012 to claim the former, he could become only the ninth hitter (h/t Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs) to claim both, and the first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Whether Judge can finish the job is ultimately a matter of whether he can avoid cooling off. His .491 average for September puts him up on everyone, including Bogaerts and Arrรกez:

Graph via Google Sheets

With his monthly strikeout rate down to a season-low 22.5 percent, Judge is helping himself by putting more balls in play. Which is good, because he's hitting by far a league-best .452 when he makes contact on a pitch.

In other words: Yeah, his dual Triple Crown chase is the real deal.


He's Making All This Count

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Even with Judge closing in on Maris and not one, but two Triple Crowns, it's no small testament to Shohei Ohtani that there's still a debate going on about who truly deserves the American League MVP for 2022.

It's indeed a fair one to the extent that, unlike Ohtani, Judge isn't both a top-five hitter and a top-five pitcher in the AL. He also has a smaller lead on Ohtani in rWAR (9.6 to 8.7) than he does in fWAR (10.4 to 8.7), and there's still another debate about whether WAR can adequately measure how much Ohtani truly matters to the Los Angeles Angels.

By that same token, though, it ought to be fair to ask whether WAR is also underrating Judge.

It matters not to WAR that the 88-58 Yankees are playoff-bound while the 64-83 Angels have already been eliminated from playoff contention on Monday. The unspoken implication there is that if Judge and Ohtani were to swap places, the Yankees would still be good and the Angels would still be bad. In the abstract, it's hard to argue with that.

Yet to take this stance is to be overly flippant about how Judge has been involved in the Yankees' success not merely abstractly, but often quite directly.

This, too, can be quantified, including by way of simple things like New York's records when Judge drives in a run (47-18) or hits a home run (37-11). Further, he has OPSes over 1.000 in high-leverage spots and late and close situations. Further still, his more specific feats include nine game-tying and 23 go-ahead knocks, including four walk-offs.

Whereas WAR cares not for clutch acts like these, other stats do. The most easily explained of the bunch is win probability added, which measures how much a player adds or subtracts to his team's chances of winning at any given moment. The bigger the moment and the more he comes through, the better.

Judge's WPA for the season is yet another league-leading mark at 7.3. And while that's not a historic figure in and of itself, he stands to join elite all-time company when he inevitably pairs it with 10 rWAR. Only six AL hitters have ever gone there, and none since Yaz in '67.

This will invariably come off as a tacit endorsement of Judge's case for the AL MVP, which...well, OK, maybe it is precisely that.

Yet it's more so meant as a full-throated endorsement for Judge's 2022 season to have a place in the inner circle of MLB's all-time seasons. Because no matter how you look at it, it's basically impossible to see it is as something other than truly special.


Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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