Sep 24 2022

Why Aaron Judge's 2022 home run season is more impressive than it looks

By Coro
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New York Yankees cloutsman Aaron Judge became the author of the ninth 60-home run season in the history of Major League Baseball on Tuesday night. Here's the company he now keeps -- i.e., the all-time single-season home run leaderboard: 

  1. Barry Bonds, 2001: 73
  2. Mark McGwire, 1998: 70
  3. Sammy Sosa, 1998: 66
  4. Mark McGwire, 1999: 65
  5. Sammy Sosa, 2001: 64
  6. Sammy Sosa, 1999: 63
  7. Roger Maris, 1961: 61
  8. Babe Ruth, 1927; Aaron Judge, 2022: 60

Barring the wholly unforeseen he'll soon tie and surpass Roger Maris' American League record for home runs in a season and, heck, maybe even put some heat on the names at the very top of that list above. For now, though, let's savor the present and keep the focus on Judge's joining the 60-homer guild. We'll do that by putting Judge's season in a cursory statistical context. 

Different eras across baseball history yield different conditions, and this affects everything -- home runs included. Hitting a homer in 1911 was wildly different from hitting one in 1930, just as hitting one in 1968 was nothing comparable to hitting one in 2000. Heck, even hitting one in 2017, when Judge's current teammate Giancarlo Stanton cracked 59 of them, was an easier feat than hitting one this year. 

So with that in mind let's undertake a brief walking tour of Judge's season in comparison to those of his 60-homer peer group. 

Judge is facing velocity no other 60-homer hitter experienced

Higher pitch velocities make things tougher on hitters, which is why moundsmen work so assiduously to maximize their ability to throw the ball hard. Speaking of which, what batters like Judge are facing in 2022 is unexampled throughout baseball history. This season, the average major-league fastball checks in at 93.6 mph, which is the highest figure on record. The average slider this year comes in at 84.5 mph, which lags only 2021 and 2019 (84.6 in both cases). Back in 2002 -- the first year of standardized and publicly available velocity data -- MLB fastballs averaged 89.0 mph, and sliders were at 80.4 mph. Given that sharp trendline and given that the other 60-homer seasons happened before 2002, it's safe to assume his peers faced nothing like the heat Judge faces on a daily basis. That goes double for Maris and Ruth. 

Judge is also facing more pitchers

It's long been known that increasing familiarity between batter and pitcher accrues to the benefit of the batter. The more times a batter sees a given pitcher, the better he's likely to fare. On this front, Judge stands alone in his lack of familiarity. Regard the players on our list ranked by the number of different pitchers seen during the seasons of note: 

  • Judge, 2022: 244 different pitchers faced (and counting)
  • Sosa, 1999: 215 different pitchers faced
  • Sosa, 2001: 213 different pitchers faced
  • Sosa, 1998: 211 different pitchers faced
  • McGwire, 1998; Bonds, 2001: 201 different pitchers faced
  • McGwire, 1999: 198 different pitchers faced
  • Maris, 1961: 101 different pitchers faced
  • Ruth, 1927: 64 different pitchers faced

Judge has seen the most, and it's not a close race. 

These days, teams use more pitchers per game than they ever have. Starters have their workloads limited so as to avoid, when possible, facing the opposing lineup for the third time in a given game or working on a high pitch count, which is when batters seize a big advantage. Rather than picking meat off the bones of a tiring starter, they face a sequence of hard-throwing relievers who tend to work no more than a frame at a time. 

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