Why Aaron Judge’s season with Yankees should be judged by more than just home runs
After hitting his 60th home run of the season on Tuesday, it seems fair to project that Aaron Judge will top 61 home runs in 2022 — breaking an American League record that’s stood since 1961.
It’s a mark that many consider to be the true or clean record considering the only players to surpass it are confirmed, or credibly suspected, steroid users Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Whether you buy that logic or not, by the end of the season Judge will almost certainly surpass Roger Maris and set a new mark for AL hitters to chase in the years to come.
That alone is remarkable, but it undersells the excellence of the New York Yankees outfielder.
For reference, when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961, his OPS+ was 167. He had a .993 OPS to his name and the league average was .753. As of Wednesday, Judge’s OPS sits at 1.123 against a league average of 708. That’s good for a 214 OPS+.
On the surface that number, while undoubtedly impressive, doesn’t seem historic. If the season ended today it would be the 47th-best mark of all time.
There are some major caveats to that, though.
Firstly, only 39 of the 46 seasons that exceed Judge’s OPS+ occurred prior to 1947. They shouldn’t be totally discounted, but stats from before integration came in leagues with talent pools that were not nearly as deep as they are today.
Two of the seasons were delivered by players participating in shortened seasons (Juan Soto in 2020 and Jeff Bagwell in 1994). Five of them belonged to Bonds and McGwire.
That means the only guys to post an OPS+ better than Judge over a full season without asterisks were Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle in 1957. Even then you could make a strong argument that integration wasn’t complete and that era of baseball is so far removed from today’s game that it’s almost impossible to compare.
Judge’s offensive performance — as judged by an all-in-one stat that’s responsive to offensive environments across eras — is the best the vast majority of baseball fans have ever seen. If you want to say it deserves a place behind Bonds and McGwire, there’s an argument to be had there, but ultimately we’re still looking at a performance the likes of which is rarely seen.
As much as the Yankees, and anyone who wears pinstripes, engender hatred among baseball fans across North America, that deserves to be appreciated. As it stands Judge leads the major leagues in home runs, runs, RBI, OBP, SLG, and total bases.
Not even Bonds or McGwire ever accomplished that feat. It’s an accomplishment associated with legends like Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson who played nearly a century ago. He’s also currently in position to win the Triple Crown, although Xander Bogaerts and Luis Arraez could spoil that party.
Thanks to Statcast we also now know that nothing about Judge’s success this season has been cheap, either. According to Baseball Savant’s expected metrics, his power production and overall output should actually be slightly higher:
Perhaps that isn’t surprising considering he’s in the 100th or 99th percentile in every quality-of-contact metric:
Given his success, the team he plays for, and even his stature, it would be unfair to describe anything Judge is doing as under-the-radar. That said, his monster season is being framed almost solely around his home run total at the moment, and that’s an oversimplification.
The 30-year-old’s season is in the midst of an all-around tour de force the likes of which the sport has rarely seen. His 2022 season, barring a finishing slump of epic proportions, will go down as one of the best offensive campaigns of all time.
Perhaps as importantly for Judge, he’s produced the best contract year imaginable.