Aaron Judge Isn’t The New Home Run King. He’s Something More.
As Aaron Judge crowned a season to remember in Arlington, Texas, by whistling his American League-record-setting 62nd home run on Tuesday night — a 100 mph moonshot that lofted over the left-field wall at Globe Life Field — the debate over how we should remember his performance smoldered on. Some pointed to the oft-repeated “AL record” as simply a euphemism for “most home runs hit while not using steroids.” And yes, the fixation on Judge’s power surge is inextricable from the idea that Roger Maris’s 61 dingers — not Barry Bonds’s 73 — was the “legitimate,” untainted and unjuiced MLB record, and that No. 99’s pursuit was the closest and noblest we had seen in years.
But while 62 is less than 73, and records aren’t washed away by the tide of public opinion, this much is clear: Judge just topped off arguably the greatest season of anyone not named Bonds since Maris hit his 61st — no matter which stats you look at.
By FanGraphs’s weighted runs created plus, which measures a player’s total offensive value relative to league average after adjusting for park factors, Judge is one of only four players since 19621 to create at least twice as many runs per plate appearance as the league average,2 and his figure of 208 trails only Bonds. If you go by Baseball-Reference.com’s OPS+, a similar metric that uses OPS as its foundation rather than runs created, Judge’s 2022 is tied for the sixth-most-productive full season in that same time span, following only Bonds (again, four seasons) and Mark McGwire. And if good ol’ wins above replacement is your preference, Judge rakes there too, with 11.0 WAR by our combined metric of choice,3 tied for the sixth-best season since 1962:
Judge’s all-around season is in rarified territory
Most wins above replacement (WAR) for MLB position players in a season since 1962
|Player||Season||Team||HR||OPS+||wRC+||WAR||Triple Crown Contention|
|Cal Ripken Jr.||1991||BAL||34||162||154||11.1|
By the more traditional metrics, Judge’s case for the history books is just as ironclad. Thanks to a much more judicious approach at the plate, he’s on the doorstep of the first Triple Crown season since Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and just the fourth since 1962 — potentially becoming the only member of the 60-home-run club to ever win it. (He currently leads the AL in home runs and RBIs, ranking second in batting average behind Minnesota’s Luis Arraez.)
In fact, Judge has been so great that even another dazzling two-way season from Shohei Ohtani of the L.A. Angels hasn’t so much as moved the needle away from the Yankee slugger. Judge leads Ohtani in combined (batting plus pitching) WAR by 1.5 wins, a larger gap than Ohtani had over No. 2 Zack Wheeler in WAR when he earned all the superlatives last season. While WAR may not capture the full value of a two-way unicorn like Ohtani, Judge’s big edge over Ohtani is unlikely to be erased by minor tweaks that could be made around positional value. And according to the oddsmakers, Judge also remains a strong favorite to bring home his first MVP, implying a lack of serious debate over who ought to win the award.
Compare that with the last big advanced-versus-traditional-stats argument over AL MVP, the 2012 race between Cabrera and Mike Trout. Unlike then, when Cabrera won the MVP over Trout and his metrics largely thanks to a torrid September — coming up clutch for a Tigers team in a tight division race — and that rare Triple Crown victory, Judge has captured both sides of the argument. In the same shining season, he has unified both traditional and advanced concepts of value.
And no accomplishment is shinier than 62 homers. But perhaps even more impressive than his raw home run total is just how Judge has lapped his peers — in a year when big flies have seemingly died on the warning track en masse. Before a late-season swoon by his lofty standards, the right fielder flirted with being the first hitter since Babe Ruth in 1928 to outhomer the next-closest slugger in MLB by at least 20 home runs. (As of this writing, Judge has 62 to Kyle Schwarber’s 46.)4 And Ruth “only” hit 54 home runs that year — meaning that, among members of the 60-home-run club, Judge has the largest gap between his total and that of the next-closest competitor. Judge apparently didn’t receive the memo that it’s a dead-ball year — even with leaguewide isolated power, slugging percentage and other key hitting metrics all nosediving, Judge has posted career-high numbers in each category. And during the New York Yankees’ relatively pedestrian second half of the season, Judge has put the team on his back, posting a comical 254 WRC+ even as his team scuffled to a barely-above-average mark of 107.
Hitting No. 62 Tuesday night in Texas didn’t make Aaron Judge the new home-run king — real or imagined. But his achievement is nonetheless worth celebrating as the coda to arguably the most dominant non-Bonds season we’ve seen since Maris usurped Ruth. In a contract year, Judge bet on his own excellence and won big: Now it’s up to the Yankees to see if they can keep him from leaving the park one more time — out of the Bronx and maybe even into the next borough — next season.
Neil Paine contributed research.
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