Aaron Judge’s greatness is more than just a home run record


Let me be clear: I would rather be audited by the IRS than watch the New York Yankees win a World Series. I hate them and everyone who plays for them. That said, you’d have to be an idiot not to recognize the historic season Aaron Judge is having.

Yes, Judge will likely break the American League record for home runs in a season, which is impressive in itself. However, it is so much more than that. A look across various metrics shows just how dominant Judge has been — and how it’s helped garner interest in America’s once-favorite pastime.

Righter is at 60 home runs and is on pace to finish in the mid-60s. That means he will likely finish well ahead of Roger Maris’ long American League streak of 61 homers.

The righty will likely fall short of the Major League Baseball record of 73 home runs. Anyone who has followed Judge’s pursuit will note that most people dismissed that record — held by Barry Bonds — as a home run season north of 61 home runs, because all those men were mired in performance-enhancing drug scandals and would used steroids. Bonds and Sammy Sosa have denied these allegations.

Whether or not you believe these other records are legitimate, what you can’t argue with is that records like Bonds’ happened in an era where home runs flew out of the park faster than a Concorde jet. When Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, Sosa hit 64. When Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, Sosa hit 66.

Currently, Judge is 20 home runs ahead of his closest competitor, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Judge stands out not only for the overall total, but for how much of an outlier his performance is compared to the competition.

If you look at every 50+ home run season, the average difference between the person hitting 50+ home runs and second place that year was only five home runs. All men who hit 61 home runs or more had at most nine home runs between them and the second-place finisher – Maris beat Mickey Mantle by seven home runs in 1961.

Of course, Judge doesn’t just stand out for his home run ability. He is as close to the complete package as a hitter as you can find.

Mantle’s 1956 season is the only one among the 50+ home run seasons in which the player also led his league – American or National – in batting average and RBIs (runs batted in).

Aaron Judge hits an RBI double against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Center on May 3 in Canada.

Judge has a real chance to join Mantle as one of two men to hit for baseball’s Triple Crown in the season they hit 50+ home runs out of the ballpark. Judge has clear leads in home runs and RBIs in the American League. He traded leads with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Luis Arráez for the batting average crown.

However, you could make the argument that metrics like batting average and RBIs are outdated in the age of advanced statistics. Don’t worry, if you’re someone trying to explain how great Judge’s season has been, there’s proof for that too.

Take a look at some of the stats that are generally preferred by wonks of the game. Righter is different for everyone in on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage (OBPS), wins above replacement (WAR) etc.

In fact, Judge’s on-base plus slugging, adjusted for ballpark and season factors, is the sixth best of any player who hits 50+ home runs in a season.

The bottom line is that Judge’s season is excellent no matter how you look at it.

Arguably, Judge’s biggest weakness is that he’s doing it at a time when baseball is the least popular it’s ever been. Only slightly more than 10% of Americans say it is their favorite sport to watch. It’s fighting with basketball for second place next to the powerhouse that is the NFL.

Baseball was the clear fan favorite as Maris hit 61 home runs. It was a clear second place when McGwire broke Maris’ mark.

Google searches tell the story, as NFL searches outnumbered MLB searches by a factor of 3 or 4 to 1 (!) in the last week.

While this author is by no means a Yankees fan, he can relate to the increased exposure baseball is getting through Judge's exploits.

However, the judge was able to break out. When you look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL – as measured by ESPN’s quarterback rating (QBR) – Judge has more people rooting for him than anyone in the top four of the stat.

I can only imagine how much more press Judge would get if his historic season took place when many Americans actually cared about the game. Maybe Judge’s season will help revive baseball in the smallest way and — while I can think of a million other things I’d rather see than a Yankee succeed — that’s something I can live with.