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Aaron Judge’s AL Home Run Record Chase Is Starting to Feel Real

It’s not too soon to get excited about the Yankee slugger’s odds of surpassing Ruth and Maris—and maybe sailing past 62

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Thank goodness the trade deadline is over, because now we can turn to the actual most interesting story line of the remaining MLB season. What, a Juan Soto blockbuster raised your eyebrows? Well, Soto doesn’t have a shot at 60 home runs. You think Luis Castillo might boost the Mariners to their first playoff berth in two decades? Well, Castillo isn’t pursuing a record chase on the verge of a high-profile free agency. You laughed about unvaccinated Whit Merrifield’s trade to the Blue Jays? Well, Merrifield doesn’t suit up for baseball’s most popular team.

But those notable traits all apply to Aaron Judge, who leads the majors with 43 homers and has two months left to hit more. While the baseball world devoted most of its attention to the trade market, Judge picked up his already prodigious pace, with 10 homers in 13 games since the All-Star break. He just won the American League’s Player of the Month award, and its Player of the Week award twice in a row.

Yet he has bigger sights in store. As a reminder, only five players in MLB history have hit 60 home runs in a season: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire (twice), and Sammy Sosa (thrice) in the Steroid Era; Roger Maris and Babe Ruth outside it. The AL record is Maris’s 61. And Judge, with 43 dingers in 106 team games, is on pace for 66.

This record chase is fascinating for obvious reasons—home runs are cool! Records are cooler! Judge is a Yankee!—and because of some more subtle factors. For instance, as far as baseball fans know, Judge’s titanic total doesn’t come with any contextual asterisks; it isn’t just a product of a “juiced ball” or an extreme homer-happy environment. The majors’ 1.08 homers per game this season represents the lowest mark since 2015. Judge leads the second-most prolific home run hitter, Kyle Schwarber of the Phillies, by 10 right now, which puts him on pace for a season-ending lead of 15 homers; not since Jimmie Foxx led Ruth by 17 homers in 1932 has the gap between first and second place been that large.

Nor is his record chase merely a result of his homer-friendly home ballpark. Based on the tracking figures at Baseball Savant, Judge has 26 “no-doubter” homers, or fly balls that would have cleared the fence at all 30 parks. Nobody else has more than 17. And that means 60.5 percent of Judge’s homers have been no-doubters—the highest ratio for any player with at least 20 dingers this season. (For a Yankee Stadium comparison, Judge’s teammate Anthony Rizzo has 27 homers but just nine no-doubters, for a ratio of 33 percent.)

Baseball Savant also calculates that, looking at all of Judge’s fly balls this season, he’d expect to have hit 44.2 homers thus far—meaning if anything, his homer tally is lower than the total he deserves, despite Yankee Stadium. (Rizzo, for another comparison, has 4.3 more homers than expected by this metric.) In fact, if he played his games in a different home park, Judge might even have a higher count—if he played in Cincinnati, for instance, Baseball Savant estimates he’d already have 52 home runs.

Judge doesn’t need contextual boosts because his skillset already makes him an extreme outlier. His average fly ball or line drive leaves the bat at an astounding 100.4 miles per hour, easily the top mark in the majors. He’s the MVP favorite, with league-leading wins above replacement and win probability added totals and the second-best wRC+ (via his .298/.386/.676 slash line) among qualified hitters. He’s not just an all-or-nothing slugger, but the game’s most productive hitter in 2022.

Yet he’s also consistent within that outlier mold. He’s faced 18 opponents this year and homered against 17 of them. (Congratulations to the Rangers, who held Judge in check for three games!) He’s homered in 11 percent of his at-bats against right-handed pitchers and 11 percent against lefties. He’s homered in 12 percent of at-bats at home and 10 percent on the road. After a slow start in April (just six long balls), he bashed 12 homers in May, 11 in June, and 13 in July.

While Judge has always been possessed of immense power—he hit 52 homers in 2017, then a rookie record—sustained health and a few small tweaks to his batted-ball profile have pushed his home run tally into the stratosphere this season. He’s running a career-high fly ball percentage, with Statcast categorizing 38 percent of his batted balls—versus a pre-2022 average of 30 percent—as flies. Judge’s grounder percentage is in line with his career rates, but when he gets a ball in the air, it’s more often as a fly ball than a line drive. And that’s important because, in his career, 34 percent of Judge’s fly balls have turned into homers, versus just 7 percent of his line drives.

Judge is also pulling the ball more than in any previous full season, with a 46 percent pull rate, up from its usual mark in the mid-to-upper 30s. Granted, he has the power and track record to bash homers to all fields—but in his career, Judge has homered on 26 percent of fly balls hit straightaway or to the opposite field, versus a whopping 68 percent of his pull-side flies. In the Statcast era, that’s unsurprisingly the highest ratio in the sport—so it’s a boon for Judge’s record chase that he’s generating more fly balls to left field than ever before.

But can that production propel him to 60 dingers, or 62, or even 70 or 73? Last year, in a much friendlier leaguewide home run environment, nobody hit more than 48; in 2019, the homer peak in MLB history, Pete Alonso topped the leaderboard with only 53 as the spike benefitted lower- and mid-tier homer hitters more than the most prolific sluggers in the sport.

Since the Steroid Era, Giancarlo Stanton came closest in 2017. After a 12-homer July and 18-homer (!) August—the latter tied for the second most for any player in any month in MLB history—he entered September with 51 dingers, and he was still on pace for 60 late into the month. But he ended the season with just two homers in his last eight games to finish with 59.

Let’s examine the odds that Judge passes his now-teammate and reaches the magical 60-homer threshold. First, we have to optimistically figure that Judge won’t get injured, or else he has very little chance—let’s assume, for projection purposes, that he will play in 55 of the Yankees’ 56 remaining games.

The bad news is that Judge, in his entire career, has never homered more than 26 times in a 55-game span—which means he won’t reach McGwire’s mark of 70, let alone Bonds’s 73, unless he raises his home run pace to an unprecedented level over the rest of the season.

But the good news is that if he aims his sights a bit lower, he has a very good chance to reach his target. If we look at every 55-game stretch of Judge’s season to date—games 1 through 55, 2 through 56, 3 through 57, etc.—we find that he reached at least 19 home runs in every single one. In other words: Even if Judge were to spend the rest of the season repeating his least homer-prone stretch of 2022, he’d still hit 19 more homers, bringing him to 62 overall—thereby besting Ruth and Maris and giving him the new AL record, as well as the highest total for any player not associated with PEDs.

This chart shows the percentage of 55-game stretches this season in which Judge reached each home run figure:

Aaron Judge’s Homer Possibilities Based on 2022 Season

Season HR Total HR Needed Achievement Rate in 55 Games
Season HR Total HR Needed Achievement Rate in 55 Games
50 7 100%
51 8 100%
52 9 100%
53 10 100%
54 11 100%
55 12 100%
56 13 100%
57 14 100%
58 15 100%
59 16 100%
60 17 100%
61 18 100%
62 19 100%
63 20 90%
64 21 79%
65 22 60%
66 23 50%
67 24 48%
68 25 17%
69 26 4%
70 27 0%

However, we can’t assume that Judge’s hot streak this season represents his true talent level. He’s set a new 55-game high for homers this season, and over his whole career, he’s averaged only 16 dingers per 55 games—sometimes even falling as low as the single digits. It’s possible, though not actually probable, that Judge will slump back toward his career average over the next two months.

If we look at Judge’s entire career and not only the 2022 season and redo the same chart that we produced above, the odds don’t look quite so rosy. From this angle, Judge would expect to finish the season with 59 or 60 homers—meaning he’d be right on the border of Ruth and Maris and a new AL record, rather than a cinch to zoom past them into the mid-60s.

Aaron Judge’s Homer Possibilities Based on His Career

Season HR Total HR Needed Achievement Rate in 55 Games
Season HR Total HR Needed Achievement Rate in 55 Games
50 7 100%
51 8 100%
52 9 100%
53 10 97%
54 11 94%
55 12 86%
56 13 78%
57 14 69%
58 15 61%
59 16 53%
60 17 44%
61 18 35%
62 19 29%
63 20 22%
64 21 17%
65 22 11%
66 23 6%
67 24 5%
68 25 1%
69 26 0%
70 27 0%

Despite his pace to date, there are also plenty of less fortunate ways in which Judge’s season could proceed. He could suffer an injury. The Yankees could give him more rest days with the AL East title and a playoff bye all but wrapped up. Or opposing pitchers could stop throwing him pitches to crush: It’s a small sample, but Judge’s walk rate has jumped from 11.3 percent before the All-Star break to 19.7 percent since. Before the break, pitches to Judge landed in the strike zone 48.0 percent of the time, according to Statcast data; since the break, that number’s plummeted to 40.6 percent. (He hasn’t started chasing more balls out of the strike zone, but one wonders if that patience will persist as he closes in on a record.)

Yet barring injury, even if Judge slumps somewhat, that second, career-based chart above shows that he’ll still be able to make a proper run at the milestone. He’s so far ahead of a 60-homer pace that he can overcome a bit of regression down the stretch. In any event, every remaining Judge at-bat will be a must-watch because of the possibility that it could bring him one dinger closer to history.

Judge won’t challenge Bonds’s record, but Ruth and Maris have gone untouched by any American League player for more than 60 years. It’s fitting that a Yankee would have the best chance to take them down.