A week ago Thursday, I put my pre-trade deadline work to the side long enough to down a few beers while taking in a Yankees-Royals game from Yankee Stadium’s Section 422. The game — Andrew Benintendi’s debut in pinstripes, as it turned out — unfolded as a pitchers’ duel between the Royals’ Brady Singer and the Yankees’ Jameson Taillon. Singer struck out 10 in seven innings while limiting the Yankees to a fourth-inning single by Gleyber Torres, while Taillon scattered four hits across six frames. The two bullpens did their jobs as well, and the game remained scoreless until the bottom of the ninth, when after Benintendi fouled out to complete an 0-for-4 night, Aaron Judge brought down the verdict on a 95-mph middle-middle fastball from Scott Barlow, sentencing it to an exile 431 feet away in the Royals’ bullpen.
The homer — which looked even cooler from our birds-eye view just off to the third-base side of home plate, I swear — was Judge’s 39th of the year, tying the total he hit in 148 games and 633 plate appearances last year. It was also his third walk-off of the season, tying the franchise record set by Mickey Mantle in 1949. None of the other sluggers in Yankees history — not Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson, or Alex Rodriguez — ever had three walk-off homers in a season for the the team (Jackson had three for the A’s in 1971).
Judge proceeded to leave the yard three more times in the next two games against the hapless Royals, with the second of those shots a grand slam (his second of the year) and the third his 200th career homer. He added another in Monday’s series-opening victory over the Mariners to run his total to a major league-leading 43 but went homerless on Tuesday and sat out Wednesday afternoon’s game.
Even with that homerless game on Tuesday, over his last 17 games dating back to July 14, Judge has hit 13 homers while batting .397/.519/1.064. While there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about 17-game spans, that’s the most home runs anyone has hit over one this year, and tied for the fourth-most over the past decade, once you weed out the overlapping streaks:
Most Home Runs in 17-Game Span Since 2013
SOURCE: Baseball Reference
I’ve displayed the earliest start date of each such streak. Judge’s total is the same for July 13–August 1 as it is July 14–August 2.
Since the outset of the season, after he turned down the Yankees’ Opening Day extension offer of $230.5 million for this year and his next seven, we’ve been following the 30-year-old slugger’s progress as his performance boosts his projections and raises his price tag. As of Opening Day, ZiPS projected him to produce 5.1 WAR this year and 4.6 WAR in 2023; by July 25, he had banked 5.6 WAR and was projected for 5.6 next year. He’s now at 6.7 WAR this year, with our Depth Charts projecting him to add another 2.5, and I don’t think the wheel has stopped spinning when it comes to next year’s total. Combine remarkable focus and preparation with the natural ability to crush baseballs at speeds of 115 mph and higher and this is the outcome.
Setting aside his WAR and his next contract, with 43 homers through the Yankees’ first 106 games, Judge has the potential to reach Really Big Numbers that carry some significance. Just going by his raw per-game pace, he projects to finish with 66 homers over the course of the Yankees’ 162 games, a total that would set an American League record. The various projection systems we carry at FanGraphs aren’t quite that sanguine; ZiPS and Steamer, the two we blend for our Depth Charts forecasts, both project him to add another 16 this season, as does The Bat. Another 16 homers would tie him with teammate Giancarlo Stanton’s 2017 total of 59, hit when he was with the Marlins — the highest single-season total in the post-Barry Bonds era (2008 onward).
We can have even more fun than that. Since the projections we present are really a way of summarizing a wide range of outcomes, we can zoom in and examine the distribution to get a better appreciation of where Judge’s home run total may land. Towards that end, I shook a justifiably tired Dan Szymborski out of bed following his post-deadline slumber so that we could take a joyride in the ZiPSmobile. You can’t drive to Monaco’s Casino de Monte-Carlo from the East Coast, but you can get to a Monte-Carlo simulation!
For this one, Dan ran one million simulations to calculate Judge’s odds of reaching every home run total from 43 upwards, based on his getting another 225 PA, the total from his Depth Charts projection:
ZiPS Final HR Probability – Aaron Judge (8/4/22)
|At Least X Homers||probability|
Judge projects to reach the 50-homer plateau almost 96% of the time, and to set a personal best with 53 or more homers about 83.5% of the time. If he does hit 53 homers, he would surpass Jim Thome’s 2002 total for the most by any player in a walk year… sort of. Rodriguez hit 54 homers in 2007 before exercising his opt-out clause and then re-signing with the Yankees, while Bonds set the single season record with 73 in 2001, and after no offers for multiyear deals were forthcoming, agreed to binding arbitration on a one-year deal with the Giants for ’02. That was a thing that teams and free agents could do back then, when the system squeezed players towards a deadline to return to their previous teams without missing the first month of the season. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether either the Rodriguez or Bonds situation supersedes Thome in terms of representing a walk year, while noting that neither of their routes is open to Judge — hence my reluctance to cite them as true parallels.
Surpassing A-Rod’s 54 home runs would mean hitting more homers than any Yankee since Roger Maris in 1961, and more than any AL player since the Blue Jays’ José Bautista in 2010. Judge has about a 70% chance of putting those men in the Rear view mirror by hitting 55 or more homers.
He has a 39.5% of hitting at least 59 homers, which would match Stanton; a 32.7% chance of hitting at least 60, which would match Ruth’s record-setting 1927 total; and a 26.6% chance of hitting at least 61, which would match Maris. He’s got a 21.3% chance of eclipsing Maris and setting the franchise record. For what it’s worth, from August 2 of last year to August 1 of this year, Judge hit 61 homers in 159 games and 694 plate appearances, with a .294/.376/.650 line, a 184 wRC+, and 5.6 WAR. That kicks ass!
Homer-wise, there’s more. Skipping past the seasons of 63 to 70 homers by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire that no longer stand as records (and that aren’t so fondly recalled by many), Judge has a 0.64% chance of hitting at least 73 to match Bonds, and a 0.43% chance of surpassing him for the single-season record. In the simulations Dan ran, Judge even has a 1-in-500,000 chance of hitting 84 homers! Here’s what the above table looks like in graph form:
And here’s the distribution for each discrete total:
It should be noted that all of these probabilities take into account this year’s downturn in home runs. Through Wednesday, teams had averaged 1.08 home runs per game, down 11.9% from last year’s 1.22 per game and down 22.8% from the all-time high of 1.39 per game, set in 2019; This is the lowest home run rate since 2015, when teams hit 1.01 per game. Yet Judge is still doing what he’s doing, heading into August with a legitimate shot at Maris if not Bonds.
The other thing to note about these probabilities is that they’re dependent upon playing time. Judge has dealt with long absences in his career due to injuries a few times. Last year was the first time since his 2017 rookie campaign that he played in more than 112 games, and while some of his injuries were flukes (the chip fracture in his wrist in 2018 comes to mind), not all of them were. Taking that into account, ZiPS projects Judge for 211 PA over the remainder of the season, Steamer for 234; those two averages and a bit of human input are how the Depth Charts projections get to 225, the number we chose to use as the basis of this model. For what it’s worth, Judge has averaged 4.25 PA per Yankees game (including the ones he missed), but that total of 225 only requires 4.02 per game over the team’s remaining 56 games. Obviously, his odds decrease significantly if he falls far short of 225, but he does have a small cushion built into that playing time.
And of course, even if he does remain available, Judge has to stay quite hot. Less than seven weeks ago, I wrote about this Yankees squad being on a pace to challenge the franchise record of 114 wins and the expansion-era record of 116 wins; their 49-17 record (.742 winning percentage) projected to 120-42 over 162 games. A 14-15 record since the start of July has thrown cold water all over that; their pace is now down to a mere 107 wins, and their starting pitching, which was driving that early run, is showing signs of fading. Maybe Judge won’t continue to bash dingers at such a prolific rate that he can eclipse Maris or even Mantle and A-Rod, but particularly in New York, in the context of his pending free agency, the chase guarantees him plenty of attention, and so long as he’s got a chance of these big numbers, we’ll keep our sights on him.