Aaron Judge is larger than life, and not just because he’s 6 feet, 7 inches tall and 282 pounds. The Yankee slugger is having one of the greatest hitting seasons in recent memory. All eyes have been on his pursuit of the American League single-season home run record of 61, set by the Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1961. After hitting his 61st homer on Wednesday in Toronto, he seems primed to break the record. But Judge’s remarkable 2022 season is about more than one record. It’s one of the greatest hitting campaigns of the 21st century. Here’s why.
One thing about Judge is absolutely clear — analytics love him. He leads all of baseball in average exit velocity, hard hit percentage and barrel rate. Judge has barreled 106 pitches this year, 30 more than anyone else in the league. Shohei Ohtani, who led the league in that category last year, barreled 78 pitches all season en route to winning the 2021 American League MVP in a landslide. Judge has bested that and then some.
Judge’s on-field stats more than reflect his dominance of analytics. He leads all of baseball in home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging and wins above replacement, a measure of player value. He also ranks second in the American League in batting average, trailing only Luis Arráez of the Twins. If he can overtake Arráez, he’ll lead the American League in every Triple Crown category: batting average, home runs and RBIs. He’d be only the second player, along with Miguel Cabrera, to win the Triple Crown in either league since 1967.
To understand just how good Judge has been in 2022, it’s worth comparing him to the man he’s chasing: Roger Maris. In his record-breaking 1961 season, Maris’ slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) was .269/.372/.620, and he generated 6.9 WAR. So far in 2022, Judge has slashed .313/.428/.692, with a WAR of 10.6. These two seasons are apples and oranges.
Judge’s season also sticks out on a historical level. Adjusted OPS (or OPS+) is a stat that accounts for a hitter’s environment, where 100 is always the league average. Judge’s OPS+ this year is an insane 214, but that’s not surprising when you consider that his slugging percentage alone is higher than the average OPS of ten teams in the league. The last player to finish a full 162-game season with an OPS+ that high was Barry Bonds in 2004, and the last man to do so in the American League was Ted Williams in 1957. Neither Mike Trout nor Albert Pujols, the two greatest active hitters, has ever managed a season that good. Judge is in historic company, even if he doesn’t win the Triple Crown.
No player has attracted more attention in 2022 than Aaron Judge, and rightfully so. The 30-year-old is having one of the best seasons at the plate any player has had in recent memory, and if manages to win the Triple Crown, it’ll only further cement this season’s greatness. Trout and Pujols have been more consistently great, but neither of them have had a better single season than this. The only man who has in the 21st century is Bonds. Judge is a huge reason why the Yankees have been able to lead the toughest division in baseball for virtually the entire season. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and time will tell if the Yankees will re-sign him. But there has been no doubt about his dominance this year, nor is there any doubt that he’ll get an enormous payday this offseason, no matter where he signs.