Let me be clear: I’d rather be audited by the IRS than see the New York Yankees win a World Series. I hate her and everyone who plays for her. That means 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 that’s impressive in its own right. It’s so much more than that, however. One look at various metrics reveals just how dominant Judge has been — and how it’s helped spark interest in what was once America’s favorite pastime.
Judge is at 60 homers and is on track to hit his mid-60s. That means he’ll likely finish well ahead of Roger Maris’ longstanding American League record of 61 home runs.
The judge will likely miss Major League Baseball’s record 73 home runs. Anyone who’s followed Judge’s pursuit will find that most people have brushed aside that record — held by Barry Bonds — or any homer season north of 61 homers because all of those men were involved in performance-enhancing drug scandals and allegedly on steroids have used. Bonds and Sammy Sosa have denied these allegations.
Whether you believe these other records are legitimate or not, there’s no denying that records like Bond’s were created in an era when home runs were flying 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.
Right now, Judge is 20 home runs ahead of his nearest rival, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Judge not only excels in totals, but also in how much his performance compares to the competition.
If you look at every season with 50+ homers, the average difference between the person who hit 50+ homers that year and second place was only five homers. All men who hit 61 or more home runs had at most nine home runs between themselves and the runner-up—Maris beat Mickey Mantle by seven home runs in 1961.
Of course, Judge doesn’t just excel at his home run skills. He’s as close to the complete package as a batsman as you can find.
Mantle’s 1956 season is the only one of over 50 home run seasons in which the player also led his league — American or National — in batting averages and RBIs (runs batted in).
Judge has a real shot at joining Mantle as one of two men to bat for baseball’s Triple Crown in the season they hit more than 50 home runs from the ballpark. Judge has clear leads on home runs and RBIs in the American League. He has traded for the batting average crown with Xander Bogaerts of Boston and Luis Arráez of Minnesota.
However, you could argue 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 was, there’s evidence for that too.
Take a look at some of the stats that are generally favored by players of the game. Judge is ahead of everyone else in on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage (OBPS), wins over spares (WAR), and so on.
In fact, adjusting for baseball and seasonal factors, Judges On-Base plus Slugging is the sixth-best of any player to hit 50+ home runs in a season.
The bottom line is that Judge’s season has been excellent no matter how you look at it.
Arguably Judge’s greatest weakness is that he’s doing it at a time when baseball is at its most unpopular. Just over 10% of Americans say it’s their favorite sport. It battles basketball for second place alongside the powerhouse NFL.
Baseball was the clear fan favorite as Maris hit 61 home runs. It was a clear second place as McGwire broke Maris’ mark.
Google searches tell the tale as NFL searches outweigh MLB searches in the last week by a 3 or 4 to 1(!) order.
However, the judge was able to break out. If you look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL — as measured by ESPN’s quarterback rating (QBR) — more people search for Judge than anyone in the top four of the stats.
I can only imagine how many more press judges would get if his historic season happened when many Americans actually cared about the game. Perhaps Judge’s season will help revive baseball in the smallest of ways, and while I can think of a million other things I’d rather see than a Yankee succeed, I can live with that.