Aaron Judge chases home run history: Yankees star on pace to break Roger Maris’ record; will he come there?

Back in spring training, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge rejected a very reasonable one 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 the seemingly impossible: he’s taken himself more money. Some players would crack under that pressure. The judge has not. He has thrived.

Through Sunday’s games, Judge owns a .301/.389/.669 batting line and an MLB-leading 43 home runs. He also leads baseball in runs scored (91), RBI (97), total bases (267), OPS (1.058), OPS+ (196), and both FanGraphs (6.8) and Baseball Reference (6.3) 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 August 8:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: 43
  2. Kyle Schwarber, Phillies: 34
  3. Yordan Alvarez, Astros: 30
  4. Austin Riley, Braves: 29
  5. Pete Alonso, Mets: 29

Despite going without a home run this weekend, Judge has been on a roll since the All-Star break, going deep 10 times in 16 games played in the second half. He has more second half homers than the Marlins. Literally the whole team. Miami has somehow managed to hit just eight homers since the All-Star break.

Slapping 43 homers through 109 games puts Judge on pace to hit 64 home runs this season (63.9, to be exact). We’re now more than a week into August, and Judge has maintained a home run pace that not only gives him a shot at 60 homers, but also a chance to set a new American League single-season record. That’s still Roger Maris’ 61 homers with the 1961 Yankees.

“I try not to, but people keep asking me that question,” Judge told our Matt Snyder at the All-Star Game when asked if he’s thinking about chasing 60 homers. “… I might have a better answer at the end of the year if that happens. If I get to that point, we can talk about it. Until then, it’s just so hard. We’re only halfway there. Just being halfway there is hard to talk about.”

There is a certain delightful symmetry to Judge’s pursuit of Maris’ AL home run record. Maris hit 61 homers 61 years ago in 1961. He also had No. 9. Judge wears No. 99. The question is, can Judge actually break Maris’ record? Or now 60 homers in general? Here’s what you need to know about Judge chasing Maris.

Single season home run leaderboard

Before we go any further, I should note that only eight times in MLB history has a player hit 60 home runs in a season, and six of those 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:

  1. Barry Bonds, 2001 Giants: 73
  2. Mark McGwire, 1998 Cardinals: 70
  3. Sammy Sosa, 1998 Cubs: 66
  4. Mark McGwire, 1999 Cardinals: 65
  5. Sammy Sosa, 2001 Cubs: 64
  6. Sammy Sosa, 1999 Cubs: 63
  7. Roger Maris, 1961 Yankees: 61
  8. Babe Ruth, 1927 Yankees: 60

Giancarlo Stanton tied MLB’s last streak of 60 homers, going deep 59 times in his 2017 NL MVP season. That includes a truly astonishing stretch in which Stanton hit 30 homers over 48 games. Ryan Howard hit 58 homers in his 2006 NL MVP season. Even in this homer-happy era, it’s not often a player makes a real run of 60 dingers like Judge is this year.

What the judge has already done

While we are focused on how many home runs Judge will finish the season with, it is important to note that we are discussing this because of what Judge has done to date. He is the 10th player in history to hit 43 homers through the team’s first 109 games. Only three players (five instances) hit more. Here are the five:

Barry Bonds, 2001 Giants

50 (2.18 G per hour)

73 (2.22 G per hour)

Mark McGwire, 1998 Cardinals

46 (2.37 G per hour)

70 (2.31 G per hour)

Mark McGwire, Athletics 1996

46 (2.37 G per hour)

52 (3.12 G per hour)

Babe Ruth, 1921 Yankees

46 (2.37 G per hour)

59 (2.59 G per hour)

Mark McGwire, 1999 Cardinals

44 (2.47 G per hour)

65 (2.49 G per hour)

McGwire’s home run rate dropped significantly after his first 109 games in 1996. All the others more or less maintained their home run pace throughout the rest of the season. When you’re chasing 60 homers, I figure the first 30 are much easier to hit than the last 30 for many reasons, including fatigue. The hardest part of this hunt is still ahead of Judge.

“Aaron is beyond capable of this. If we’re a month from now, six weeks from now, and he’s knocking on the door of things like that, and we understand the attention that comes with that, I can’t think of anyone more equipped to handle it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said News day earlier this month. “I think you can start at the beginning of this year with all the talk centered around the contract and how it’s affected him. He’s built for this. I think anything you throw at him, whether he gets to a number or doesn’t get to a number , I don’t think the circumstances and the pressure are going to be a factor in whether he does it or not.”

What Judge needs to do the rest of the season

Judge needs to hit 18 home runs in New York’s last 53 games to match Maris’ AL record, meaning he needs 19 homers to break the record and 17 to reach 60. Judge has hit 22 home runs in his last 53 games, and it’s not even. his most prolific 53-game season — he hit 24 homers in 53 games from June 3rd to August 2nd.

Here’s the pace Judges must maintain to reach those milestone totals:

62 homers (new AL single-season record)

19

2.79

61 homers (ties Maris’ AL record)

18

2.94

60 homers (ninth 60-homer season ever)

17

3.12

The referee’s current pace

2.53

If you’re thinking big, Judge needs to hit a home run once every 1.97 games from now on to match (not even beat) Bonds’ single-season record of 73 home runs. As fun as that chase would be, Judge won’t get there. Unless Judge goes nuclear hot in the next few weeks and catching Bonds becomes plausible, Maris’ AL record is the only realistic goal.

The judge’s remaining schedule

Judge is certainly hitting the right home plate to make a run of 60 homers. Yankee Stadium is one of the most home run-happy ballparks in the major leagues, even if Judge isn’t exactly padding his total with cheap porch tickets in right. His average home run distance of 412 feet is the fifth highest in baseball among players with at least 20 homers.

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 against 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 hits in just 671 games, second fewest ever behind Ryan Howard (658).

It’s no surprise that Judge’s home run rate at home (one every 13.1 plate appearances) is higher than his home run rate on the road (one every 16.3 plate appearances). That works against Judge in pursuit of Maris’ AL record because the Yankees will play just 25 of their remaining 53 games at home. Here is the overview of these games 53 matches:

Yankee Stadium

25

112

Fenway Park

5

107

Globe Life Field

4

96

RingCentral Coliseum

4

69

Angel Stadium

3

114

Rogers Center

3

114

American Family Field

3

119

T-Mobile Park

3

92

Tropicana Field

3

89

What these numbers mean is that Yankee Stadium inflates home runs by right-handed hitters to 112 percent of the league average. RingCentral Coliseum, on the other hand, suppresses righty homers to just 69 percent of the league average. The higher the number, the more homer-friendly the ballpark plays, at least when it comes to fair homers.

The good news: Judge will play 30 of the team’s remaining 53 games in a good ballpark for fair homers, or 57 percent. The bad news: The Yankees finish the season with four makeup games in Texas (it’s one of the series postponed by the owners’ lockout), so if Judge creeps up to 60 homers in the final week, he’ll have to get it in a ballpark that’s unfriendly to fair power hitters.

The other good news: I’m not entirely sure home run park factors apply to Judge. As mentioned earlier, his power is immense and only a few players are averaging more distance on their homers this season. He can hit the ball out of any part of a park. That said, to hit 60 homers, Judge will need a few cheaper ones along the way. The schedule seems to work in his favor.

What about his workload?

This is important. The Yankees have 53 games left, but Judge almost certainly won’t play all 53. The Yankees are all in on load management, have been for years, and rarely deviate from their rest schedule. In fact, Judge was out of the lineup last Wednesday, even though the Yankees had an off-day Thursday. They used it as an opportunity to give him two straight days off.

Dommer has been completely healthy this season, not even a single daily injury situation, and he has started 101 of the team’s 109 games (he has been hit four times). A similar pace would see Judge start 49 of New York’s last 53 games. Four fewer starts could really cut into his home run streak! It could cost Judge a shot at Maris’ AL record as well.

The Yankees are a postseason lock and the ultimate goal is to win the World Series (Judge himself would tell you that), so they will do what they think is best to ensure the team is in the best position heading into October. That said, they aren’t oblivious to the home field chase and potential history, especially since it will put a lot of hills in the seats come September. How could the Yankees sit judge at home in September?

My guess — and I stress this is just a guess — is that the Yankees will revise their rest schedule a bit, and instead of giving Judge full days off down the stretch, they’ll give him more (potentially a lot more) time at DH. Judge’s rest schedule is definitely something to monitor, especially as we head into September and have a better idea of ​​whether Judge really has a shot at Maris’ AL record.

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