Aaron Judge's lead in the home run race is an outlier in MLB history.
(CNN)Let me be clear: I’d rather be audited by the IRS than see the New York Yankees win a World Series. I hate them and everyone who plays for them. That said, you’d have to be an idiot to not recognize the historic season Aaron Judge is having.
Yes, Judge is likely to break the American League record for home runs in a season, which is impressive onto itself. It’s so much more than that, however. A look across different metrics shows just how dominant Judge has been — and how it has helped garner interest for the once favorite pastime of America.
Judge stands at 60 home runs and is on pace to end up in the mid 60s. That means he’ll likely end up far ahead of the longtime American League record of 61 homers by Roger Maris.
Judge is likely to fall short of the Major League Baseball record of 73 home runs. Anyone who has been following Judge’s pursuit will note that most people have brushed aside that record — held by Barry Bonds — or any home run season north of 61 home runs because all those men were embroiled in performance enhancing drug scandals and allegedly used steroids. Bonds and Sammy Sosa have denied those allegations.
Whether or not you believe those other records are legitimate, what can’t be argued with is that records like Bonds’ happened during an era in which home runs flew 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 competitor, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber. Judge stands out not just for overall total, but for how much of an outlier his performance is compared to the competition.
If you look at every 50+ home run season, the average difference between the person hitting 50+ home runs and second place that year was only five home runs. All of the men who hit 61 home runs or more had, at most, nine home runs between them and the second place finisher — Maris beat out Mickey Mantle by seven home runs in 1961.
Of course, Judge doesn’t stick out merely for his home run prowess. He’s as close to the complete package as a hitter as you can find.
Mantle’s 1956 season is the sole one among the 50+ home run seasons in which the player also led his league — American or National — in batting average and RBIs (runs batted in).
Judge has a real shot of joining Mantle as one of two men to hit for baseball’s Triple Crown in the season they knocked 50+ home runs out of the ballpark. Judge has clear leads in home runs and RBIs in the American League. He has traded leads with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Luis Arráez for the batting average crown.
You might make the argument, however, that metrics such as batting average and RBIs are outdated in the age of advanced statistics. No worries, if you’re someone trying to explain how amazing Judge’s season has been, there’s evidence for that as well.
Take a look at a few of the stats that are generally preferred by wonks of the game. Judge is ahead of everyone else in on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage (OBPS), wins above replacement (WAR) and so on.
In fact, Judge’s on-base plus slugging, adjusted for ballpark and seasonal factors, is the sixth best of any player to hit 50+ home runs in a season.
The bottom line is Judge’s season is 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 the least popular it’s ever been. Only a little more than 10% of Americans say it is their favorite sport to watch. It’s fighting with basketball for second place next to the powerhouse that is the NFL.
Baseball was the clear fan favorite back when Maris hit 61 home runs. It was a clear second place when McGwire broke Maris’ mark.
Google searches tell the tale, as NFL searches outnumber MLB searches by an order of 3 or 4 to 1 (!) in the last week.
Judge, though, has been able to break out. If you look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL — as measured by ESPN’s quarterback rating (QBR) — Judge has more people searching for him than anyone in the top four of the stat.
I can only imagine how much more press Judge would be getting if his historic season was taking place when many Americans actually cared about the game. Maybe, Judge’s season will help revive baseball in the tiniest way and — while I can think of millions of other things I’d rather see than a Yankee succeed — that’s something I can live with.
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