Aaron Judge’s greatness is more than just a home run record

Yes, the judge is likely to break the American League record for home runs in one season, which is impressive in itself. It is much more than that, however. A look at several metrics shows just how dominant Judge was and how he helped garner interest in America’s once favorite pastime.

The judge is 60 home runs and is ready to finish in the mid-60s. That means it will likely finish far ahead of Roger Maris’ longtime American League record of 61 homers.

The judge is likely to fall short of Major League Baseball’s record of 73 home runs. Anyone who has followed Judge’s chase will notice that most people have blown away that record – held by Barry Bonds – or any home run season north of 61 home runs because all those men have been involved in drug scandals that improve performance and allegedly used steroids. Bonds and Sammy Sosa denied these allegations.

Whether or not you believe those other records are legitimate, what cannot be disputed is that records like Bonds’ occurred during an era when home runs flew out of the park faster than a Concorde jet. When Bonds scored 73 home runs in 2001, Sosa scored 64. When Mark McGwire scored 70 home runs in 1998, Sosa scored 66.

Right now, Judge is 20 home runs ahead of his closest competitor, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber. The judge stands out not only for the grand total, but also for how much his performance is superior to the competition.

If you look at 50+ home runs each season, the average difference between the person who scored more than 50 home runs and second place that year was just five home runs. All men who scored 61 home runs or more had, at most, nine home runs between them and runner-up: Maris beat Mickey Mantle by seven home runs in 1961.

Of course, the judge is not only distinguished by his ability in the home run. He is as close to the full package as a hitter you can find.

Mantle’s 1956 season is the only one of more than 50 home runs in which the player has also led his league – American or national – in batting average and RBI (points batted).

Aaron Judge scores an RBI brace against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Center on May 3 in Canada.
The judge has a chance to join Mantle as one of two men to hit for baseball’s Triple Crown in the season in which they hit over 50 home runs off the baseball field. The judge has a clear advantage in home runs and RBI in the American League. He traded advantage with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Luis Arráez for the mid-batting crown.

You could argue, however, that metrics like batting average and RBI are outdated in the age of advanced stats. No problem, if you are someone trying to explain how amazing Judge season was, there is evidence for that too.

Check out some of the stats generally preferred by game fanatics. The judge is ahead of all others in percentage to base (OBP), percentage to slugging, percentage to base plus slugging (OBPS), wins over substitution (WAR), and so on.

In fact, Judge’s based slugging, adjusted for playing field and seasonal factors, is the sixth best of any player to score over 50 home runs in a season.

The bottom line is that Judge season is excellent no matter how you look at it.

Why is baseball no longer America's game?
Arguably, Judge’s biggest weakness is that he’s doing it at a time when baseball is the least popular it has ever been. Just over 10% of Americans say it’s their favorite sport to watch. He is fighting basketball for second place next to the powerhouse that is the NFL.

Baseball was clearly a fan favorite when Maris hit 61 home runs. It was a clear second place when McGwire broke Maris’ mark.

Google searches tell the story, as NFL searches outnumber MLB searches by an order of 3 or 4 to 1 (!) In the past week.
While this author is by no means a Yankees fan, he can respect the increased exposure baseball is getting thanks to Judge's exploits.
The judge, however, was able to escape. If you look at the best quarterbacks in the NFL – measured by ESPN’s quarterback (QBR) rating – Judge has more people looking for him than anyone in the top four of the statistic.

I can only imagine how much more press Judge would get if her historic season was unfolding when many Americans really cared about the game. Perhaps, Judge’s season will help revive baseball in the smallest of ways, and while I can think of a million other things I’d rather see than be successful on the part of a Yankee, it’s something I can live with.