Aaron Judge has joined MLB home run royalty. The Yankees star clubbed his 60th home run of the season on Tuesday night, joining an exclusive list of sluggers and putting him one homer away from tying Roger Maris for the American League single-season record. Judge’s 60th home run tied him with Babe Ruth for the eighth-most in a single season in MLB history.
Back in spring training, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge rejected a very reasonable seven-year contract extension worth $213.5 million. It was a bold decision, no doubt about it, and Judge has responded this season by doing what seemed impossible: he’s made himself more money. Some players would crack under that pressure. Judge hasn’t. He’s thrived.
In addition to homers, he also leads the league in walks, runs scored, RBI, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and both the FanGraphs and Baseball Reference versions of WAR. The race for the home run title isn’t much of a race at all.
Here is the MLB home run leaderboard as of Sept. 20:
- Aaron Judge, Yankees: 60
- Kyle Schwarber, Phillies: 40
- Yordan Alvarez, Astros: 37
- Austin Riley, Braves: 37
- Mike Trout, Angels: 36
Slugging 60 homers through 147 team games puts Judge on pace to hit 66 home runs this season.
There is some wonderful symmetry in Judge’s pursuit of Maris’ AL home run record. Maris, who passed away in 1985, hit 61 homers 61 years ago in 1961. He also wore No. 9. Judge wears No. 99. Also, Judge hit his 203rd career home run on Aug. 10, the same number of homers Maris hit with the Yankees.
“It’s always nice to see dad brought back in the public eye a little bit for his accolades in baseball. He accomplished a lot in the game. We couldn’t be more proud in what he accomplished. Sixty-one is a unique number,” Kevin Maris, one of Roger’s sons, told MLB.com in August. “… But (we) would be excited for (Judge if) he is able to achieve (the) monumental task. It’s something that is a unique record, one of the best in sports. Hitting a baseball is not easy. To accomplish that, you have done it over a season, not just one game or one at-bat.”
Single-season home run leaderboard
Before we go any further, I should note only eight times in MLB history has a player hit 60 home runs in a season, and six of the eight came during the so-called Steroid Era. What we’re talking about Judge possibly doing doesn’t happen often. Here are the eight 60-homer seasons in history:
- Barry Bonds, 2001 Giants: 73
- Mark McGwire, 1998 Cardinals: 70
- Sammy Sosa, 1998 Cubs: 66
- Mark McGwire, 1999 Cardinals: 65
- Sammy Sosa, 2001 Cubs: 64
- Sammy Sosa, 1999 Cubs: 63
- Roger Maris, 1961 Yankees: 61
- Babe Ruth, 1927 Yankees: 60
- Aaron Judge, 2022 Yankees: 60 (and counting)
Giancarlo Stanton made MLB’s most recent run at 60 homers, going deep 59 times in his 2017 NL MVP season. That includes a truly mind-boggling stretch in which Stanton hit 30 homers in a 48-game span. Ryan Howard slugged 58 homers in his 2006 NL MVP season. Even in this homer-happy era, it is not often a player makes a real run at 60 dingers.
What Judge needs to do the rest of the season
Judge needs to hit one home run in New York’s final 15 games to match Maris’ AL record, meaning he needs two homers to break the record.
Here are the paces Judge needs to maintain to reach those milestone totals:
62 homers (new AL single-season record)
61 homers (ties Maris’ AL record)
Judge’s current pace
The Yankee Stadium factor
Judge certainly plays in the right home ballpark to make a run at 60 homers. Yankee Stadium is one of the most home-run-happy ballparks in the big leagues, though Judge isn’t exactly padding his total with short right field porch cheapies. According to Statcast, Judge has hit only two home runs this season that would have been homers at Yankee Stadium and only Yankee Stadium: a 364-footer vs. Shane McClanahan on June 15 and another 364-footer against Jonathan Heasley on July 30.
That home run against Heasley was Judge’s 200th career homer. He reached 200 career homers in only 671 games, the second-fewest ever behind Ryan Howard (658).
It is no surprise Judge’s career home run rate at home (one every 13.2 plate appearances) is higher than his home run rate on the road (one every 16.1 plate appearances). Judge can hit the ball out of any part of any park.
What about his workload?
This is important. The Yankees have 15 games remaining, but Judge might not play all of them. The Yankees are all-in on load management, have been for years, and they rarely deviate from their rest schedule.
Judge has been perfectly healthy this season, not even a single day-to-day injury situation, and he has started 140 of his team’s 147 games (he’s pinch-hit four times). A similar pace would have Judge starting 14 of New York’s final 15 games. Even one fewer start will cut into his chances to match or beat Maris’ AL record.
Despite a poor stretch, the Yankees are a postseason lock and the ultimate goal is winning the World Series (Judge himself would tell you that), so they will do what they think is best to make sure the team is in the best position heading into October. That said, they are not oblivious to the home run chase and the potential history, especially since it’ll put a lot of butts in the seats. How could the Yankees sit Judge at home in September?
My guess — and I emphasize this is just a guess — is the Yankees will revise their rest schedule a bit, and rather than give Judge full days off down the stretch, they’ll give him more (potentially much more) time at DH. Judge’s rest schedule is definitely a thing to monitor.