Aaron Judge has joined MLB home run royalty. The Yankees star crushed his 61st home run of the season Wednesday, joining an exclusive list of sluggers and tying Roger Maris for the American League single-season record.
Back in spring training, Judge rejected a very reasonable 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 what seemed impossible: he's made himself more money. Some players would crack under that pressure. Judge hasn't. He's thrived.
In addition to home runs Judge also leads the league in walks, runs scored, RBI, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and both the FanGraphs and Baseball Reference 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 Sept. 28:Aaron Judge, Yankees: 61Kyle Schwarber, Phillies: 42Pete Alonso, Mets: 40Yordan Alvarez, Astros: 37Austin Riley, Braves: 37Mike Trout, Angels: 37
Slugging 61 homers through 155 team games puts Judge on pace to hit 64 home runs this season.
There is some wonderful symmetry in Judge's pursuit of Maris' AL home run record. Maris, who passed away in 1985, hit 61 homers 61 years ago in 1961. He also wore No. 9. Judge wears No. 99. Also, Judge hit his 203rd career home run on Aug. 10, the same number of homers Maris hit with the Yankees.
"It's always nice to see dad brought back in the public eye a little bit for his accolades in baseball. He accomplished a lot in the game. We couldn't be more proud in what he accomplished. Sixty-one is a unique number," Kevin Maris, one of Roger's sons, told MLB.com in August. "... But [we] would be excited for [Judge if] he is able to achieve [the] monumental task. It's something that is a unique record, one of the best in sports. Hitting a baseball is not easy. To accomplish that, you have done it over a season, not just one game or one at-bat."
Single-season home run leaderboard
Before we go any further, I should note only nine times in MLB history has a player hit 60 home runs in a season, and six -- the top six -- of the eight came during what has become known as the Steroid Era. What we're talking about Judge possibly doing doesn't happen often. Here are the nine 60-homer seasons in history:Barry Bonds, 2001 Giants: 73Mark McGwire, 1998 Cardinals: 70Sammy Sosa, 1998 Cubs: 66Mark McGwire, 1999 Cardinals: 65Sammy Sosa, 2001 Cubs: 64Sammy Sosa, 1999 Cubs: 63Aaron Judge, 2022 Yankees: 61 (and counting)Roger Maris, 1961 Yankees: 61Babe Ruth, 1927 Yankees: 60
Giancarlo Stanton made MLB's last run at 60 homers, going deep 59 times in his 2017 NL MVP season. That includes a truly mind-boggling stretch in which Stanton hit 30 homers in a 48-game span. Ryan Howard slugged 58 homers in his 2006 NL MVP season. Even in this homer-happy era, it is not often a player makes a real run at 60 dingers.
The Yankee Stadium factor
Judge certainly plays in the right home ballpark to make a run at 61-plus homers. Yankee Stadium is one of the most home-run-happy ballparks in the big leagues, though Judge hasn't padded his total with short right field porch cheapies. 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 vs. 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 homers in only 671 games, the second fewest ever behind Ryan Howard (658).
It is no surprise Judge's career home run rate at home (one every 13.2 plate appearances) is higher than his home run rate on the road (one every 16.1 plate appearances). Judge can hit the ball out of any part of any park. The Yankees only have three home games remaining this season: Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 vs. Orioles.
What about his workload?
This is important. The Yankees have seven games remaining and have already clinched the AL East title and a Wild Card Series bye. Those seven games are meaningless. Manager Aaron Boone has hinted at giving Judge a day off at some point to rest him before the postseason. That could happen soon, though it seems unlikely it would happen on the upcoming homestand. Yankees fans might burn Yankee Stadium to the ground if 50,000 people show up and Judge isn't in the lineup.
"I hope (we can give him a day off) at some point. It means we're in a good position. It's been a while now," Boone recently told the New York Post. "... The handful of off days he got over the course of the year have served him well."
The ultimate goal is winning the World Series (Judge himself would tell you that), so the Yankees will do what they think is best to make sure the team is in the best position heading into October.