The first half of the 2017 season has served as Aaron Judge’s tour de force. His 30th home run last night, in a loss to Milwaukee, broke Joe DiMaggio’s record for homers in a season by a Yankees rookie. As of right now, Judge is the runaway favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year—not to mention he is likely a top five candidate for the MVP as well.
But how good has his season really been thus far? Well, after crunching the numbers, this might be one of the best rookie seasons we have ever seen.
Aaron Judge’s Legendary Season Continues
Judge vs DiMaggio’s Rookie Campaign
The easiest place to start is a comparison between Judge and the man whose record he just broke, Joe DiMaggio.
Judge has already surpassed DiMaggio in home runs, but his current pace would leave him short of DiMaggio’s 125 RBI total. Projecting Judge’s RBI total on to the amount of games played by the Yankee Clipper—138—would put Judge at just 111 RBI for this season.
Judge is likely to play in more than 138 games, especially considering that he has played in 82 of 84 thus far; but if one were to compare the production on a level playing field, Judge would come out behind.
Judge would also be on pace to tally more than 100 fewer plate appearances than DiMaggio, when using the 138 game projection, while also drawing more than four times as many walks. This would result in Judge’s on-base percentage being 96 points higher than DiMaggio’s, and his batting average being just under one tenth higher as well.
For context, DiMaggio’s 1936 season with the Yankees ended in a 102-51 record and a World Series title for the Yankees. The team also featured 6 batters that hit above .300, which seems rather unlikely for the 2017 Yankees.
Judge v. McGwire’s Rookie Season
Another name that has been kicked around when talking about the Yankees rookie superstar is Mark McGwire. Now whether McGwire’s rookie stats were achieved with the aid of performance enhancing drugs is a fair question to raise. In terms of this hypothetical comparison, it means less than one would think.In fact, Judge’s current pace projected over 151 games—the same number that McGwire played in 1987—tops McGwire in just about every statistical category.
Judge’s totals would be 55 home runs and 122 RBI, surpassing McGwire’s 49 and 118 respectively. His batting average would also be 40 points higher and his on-base percentage would be 78 points ahead of the former Bash Brother.
Based on his current pace, Judge would tally those statistics in over 100 less plate appearances than his predecessor. For what it is worth, Judge would also draw 50 fewer walks.
Judge v. Trout’s Rookie Year
With Judge in the running for AL MVP one might wonder, “How does Judge’s rookie year compare to the rookie season of the AL’s best player?” While their skill sets are fairly different, Judge stacks up pretty well at the plate.
Mike Trout racked up 30 homers, 83 RBI, a .326 batting average, and a .399 on-base percentage in 139 games. Judge, at this pace, would amass 51 homers and 112 RBI, while batting .330 and reaching base 44.8% of the time.
Trout is much more adept with the glove than Judge, who is no slouch, but simply does not have the range of the Angels outfielder. He robs home runs with relative ease, while Judge does not have the athleticism to do so.
Trout also snagged 49 stolen bases in 54 tries in 2012, which blows Judge out of the water. Judge is also on pace to strikeout about 27 more times than the two-time AL MVP.
This is a tricky comparison, considering the tools that Trout brings to the table. When solely considering performance at the plate, Judge just might have the edge.
More than a Rookie
Considering that Judge’s numbers at the plate are—for the large part—unheard of for a rookie, perhaps it would be more suiting to see how they size up against some of the better seasons of his contemporaries.
For example, Judge’s numbers arguably outpace Bryce Harper’s 2015 MVP season. In 153 games, and 100 less at-bats, Judge would hit 14 more home runs and drive in 24 more runs than Harper.In that 2015 season, Harper did have a .330 batting average—identical to Judge’s right now—and had a higher on-base percentage than him at .460.
For the record, Harper’s 2015 Nats finished at 83-79 and missed the playoffs, reminding us that a herculean effort cannot always will a team into the postseason.
Judge’s 82 game pace also dwarfs the best season of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. Last season, Machado slugged 36 homers, drove in 96 runs, and hit .294 in 157 games. In 157 games, Judge would be on pace to hit 57 home runs, drive in 126 runs, and bat over 30 points higher. He would also draw over double the amount of walks as Machado.
Possibly All-Time Great, Certainly Not the Greatest
However, Judge’s season is not beyond compare. Predictably, his pace falls short of those set by some of the game’s greatest hitters of all-time.
As Judge hit home run number 30 prior to the all-star break, some Yankee fans began wondering if he could break the team’s season record for home runs—61, set by Roger Maris in 1961.
Maris hit 61 home runs and drove in 141 runs in 161 games, and Judge’s numbers would fall short of Maris’ over that span. If Judge somehow maintains his torrid pace, he would total 59 homers and 130 RBI in 161 games .
It is worth noting that Judge would end the year with a higher average and OBP than Maris. Not to mention that the 1961 Yankees had several members inducted to the Hall of Fame and won the World Series in five games.
Judge’s numbers stand up to a rookie McGwire, but fall quite short of the 1998 season Mac had in St. Louis. On steroids or not, McGwire hit 70 home runs and drove in 147 that season.
Judge’s numbers also fall short of the man who was competing with McGwire that season for the home run record, Sammy Sosa.
To complete the cloudy trifecta, Barry Bonds’ numbers in his record breaking 2001 season surpass that of the Baby Bomber. It should be noted Judge’s numbers are comparable to Bonds’ 1993 MVP season, his first in San Francisco.
It was not all steroid users who outpaced the Yankees new slugger. Babe Ruth did so as well. Babe did so in both his 54 and 60 home run seasons, hitting them and driving in runs at a more efficient clip.
For the record, these projections are wholly unscientific and purely mathematical projections. Baseball can be a streaky sport, but Judge’s consistency throughout the season has certainly led some to wonder how great this season of his could wind up being.
This is not the greatest individual hitting season of all-time, clean or not. When it is all said and done, this just might be the greatest individual hitting season of all-time by a rookie. Even if it is not, Judge’s legendary season is certainly one that will not soon be forgotten.