Let me be clear: I’d rather be audited by the IRS than see the New York Yankees win a World Series. I hate them and everyone who plays for them. That said, you’d have to be a fool not to recognize Aaron Judge’s historic season.
Yes, Judge could break the American League record for home runs in a season, which is impressive on its own. It is much more than that, however. A look across various metrics shows just how influential Judge has been – and how it’s helped generate interest in America’s once-favorite pastime.
Judge has hit 60 home runs and is on pace to finish in the mid-60s. That means he will likely surpass Roger Maris’ long-standing American League record of 61 homers.
Judge is likely to fall short of the Major League Baseball record of 73 home runs. Anyone following Judge’s pursuit will note that most people have brushed aside that record – Barry Bonds – or any home run season north of 61 home runs because those guys were involved in performance-enhancing drug scandals and accused of using steroids. Bond and Sammy Sosa have denied the allegations.
Whether you consider those other records valid or not, what can’t be argued is that records like Bond’s happened in an era where home runs flew out of the park faster than a Concorde jet. While Bond hit 73 home runs in 2001, Sosa hit 64. When Mark McGuire hit 70 home runs in 1998, Sosa hit 66.
Right now, Judge is 20 home runs ahead of his closest rival, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber. The judge stands not only for the overall total, but also for how outlier his performance is compared to the competition.
If you look at every 50+ home run season, the average difference between the 50+ home run finisher and second place finisher that year was only five home runs. Nine was the most home run among men who hit 61 home runs or more, and the second-place finisher – Marys beat out Mickey Mantle by seven home runs in 1961.
Of course, Judge doesn’t just stand out for his home run prowess. He is as close to the complete package as a hitter you can find.
Among the 50+ home run seasons, Mantle’s 1956 season is the only one in which a player led his league – American or National – in batting average and RBI (runs batted in).
Has a real shot to join the mantle as one of two men who knocked 50+ home runs out of the ballpark in a season for baseball’s Triple Crown. Judge clearly leads the American League in home runs and RBIs. He traded leads with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Luis Arez for the batting average crown.
You could argue, however, that metrics like batting average and RBI are outdated in an age of advanced statistics. Don’t worry, if you’re trying to explain how amazing Judge’s season has been, there’s evidence for that, too.
Check out some of the stats that are commonly favored by game freaks. Judge is ahead of everyone in on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage (OBPS), wins above replacement (WAR) and more.
In fact, Judge’s on-base plus slugging, adjusted for ballpark and seasonal factors, is the sixth best of any player to hit 50+ home runs in a season.
The bottom line is that Judge’s season is great no matter how you look at it.
Arguably, Judge’s biggest weakness was that he was doing it at a time when baseball was at its least popular. Only 10% of Americans say it is their favorite sport. It’s battling with basketball for second place next to the NFL powerhouse.
Baseball was a clear fan favorite when Maris hit 61 home runs. It was a clear second place when McGuire broke Maris’ mark.
Google searches tell the story, as NFL searches have outnumbered MLB searches by a factor of 3 or 4 to 1 (!) in the past week.
However, the judge managed to get out. If you look at the NFL’s top quarterbacks — as measured by ESPN’s quarterback rating (QBR) — Judge has more people looking for him than anyone in the top four of the stat.
I can only imagine how much more press Judge will get if his historic season is when many Americans actually care about the game. Maybe, Judge’s season will help revive baseball in the tiniest of ways, and — while I can think of a million other things I’d rather see than a Yankee succeed — it’s something I can live with.