Aaron Judge’s greatness is more than a home run


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 them. That said, you’d have to be an idiot not to recognize the historic season Aaron Judge is having.

Yes, Judge might break the American League record for home runs in a season, which is impressive. It’s much more than that, though. A look at the various numbers shows just how dominant Judge has been and how he’s helped rekindle interest in America’s once-favorite pastime.

Judge has 60 home runs and is on pace to finish in the mid-60s. That means Roger Maris will finish farther than the long-standing American League record of 61 home runs.

Judge might just be the Major League Baseball record of 73 home runs. Anyone who has followed Judge will note that most people have ignored that record – held by Barry Bonds – or any home run season north of 61 home runs because all of those men were embroiled in drug scandals and allegedly used steroids. Both Bonds and Sammy Sosa have denied the allegations.

Whether those other records are legitimate or not, what can’t be argued is that records like Bonds hit the park faster than a Concorde jet in an era of home runs. 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 closest competitor, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber. The judges stand out not only for the overall total, but how well his performance compares to the competition.

If you look at all 50+ home run seasons, the average difference between the person who hit 50+ home runs and the second place finisher that year was only five home runs. All men who hit 61 or more home runs had a maximum of nine home runs between them and the runner-up: Maris beat Mickey Mantle by seven home runs in 1961.

Of course, Judge isn’t just notable for his home run prowess. It’s as close to a complete package as you can find.

Mantle’s 1956 season is the only 50 home run season in which the player also led his league (American or National) in both batting average and RBIs (runs batted in).

Aaron Judge hits an RBI double against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Center on May 3 in Canada.

Judge has a real chance to join Mantle as one of only two men to hit baseball’s Triple Crown in a season with more than 50 home runs. Judge has clear leads in home runs and RBIs in the American League. He traded for the batting average crown with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Luis Arráez.

However, metrics like batting average and RBIs may be outdated in the age of advanced statistics. Don’t worry, if you’re trying to explain how amazing Judge’s season has been, there’s proof of that, too.

Take a look at some of the stats that game wonks generally prefer. Judge is ahead of everyone else in on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage (OBPS), wins above replacement (WAR), and more.

In fact, Judge’s on-base plus slugging, adjusted for ballpark and seasonal factors, is the sixth-best of any player with more than 50 home runs in a season.

The bottom line is that Judge’s season is great no matter how you look at it.

Arguably, Judge’s biggest weakness is that he does so at a time when baseball is the most popular it’s ever been. A little more than 10% of Americans say it’s their favorite sport to watch. Basketball is battling for second place next to the powerhouse that is the NFL.

Maris was a clear favorite among baseball fans when he hit 61 home runs. It was a clear second place when McGwire broke Maris’ mark.

Google searches tell the story, with NFL searches outnumbering MLB searches in the last week by a factor of 3 or 4 to 1 (!).

While this author is by no means a Yankees fan, baseball could stand the increased exposure it is getting thanks to Judge's exploits.

The judge, however, was able to get out. If you look at the NFL’s top quarterbacks — as measured by ESPN’s quarterback rating (QBR) — Judge looks to more people in the top four of the stat than anyone else.

I can only imagine how much more press Judge would get if his historic season was happening when many Americans actually care about the game. Maybe Judge’s season will help revive baseball in some small way and — while I can think of a million things I’d rather have than a Yankee succeeding — it’s something I can live with.