Aaron Judge and the Quest for 61

Sixty-one years after Roger Maris hit 61 homers (still the AL record as this season began) to break, by one, Babe Ruth‘s then major league record, Aaron Judge has become the third Pinstriper to reach the 60 homer threshold. More after the jump.

Judge is making his assault on the record books in new Yankee Stadium, said to be laid out and with the same dimensions as old Yankee Stadium. The same, that is, as old Yankee Stadium at the time it closed. Here are the ballpark dimensions1 in the Yankees’ three 60 home run seasons.

PlayerSeasonLF LineLF*CFRF*RF Line
Ruth1927280395487350295
Maris1961301402463367296
Judge2022318379408353314
*LF and RF distances are at the two bullpen gates.

So, there have been some changes over the years, notably down both lines and in center field, but with relatively less change in the power alleys.

The Yankees were dominant world champions in 1927 and 1961, with those teams winning 110 and 109 games, respectively. This year’s club is headed to the post-season, probably as a division winner, but the team may not win 100 games, despite a 64-28 record at the All-Star break. In terms of WAR, Judge has compiled 30% of his team’s batting WAR, compared to 26% for Ruth and 19% for Maris. For home runs, the proportion of the team total is 25% for Judge and Maris, and 38% for Ruth. Here is a comparison of this trio’s homers and related stats2.

RuthMarisJudge**
60th Home Run in Team Game no.154159147
Home/Away28/3230/3130/30
In Apr/May/Jun/Jul/Aug/Sep4/12/9/9/9/171/11/15/13/11/106/12/11/13/9/9
vs. Losing/Winning Teams35/2537/2427/33
vs. LHP/RHP19/4112/4913/47
To LF/CF/RF/Unknown*4/27/28/10/6/5524/25/11
To LF/CF/RF/Unknown* at Home1/12/14/10/4/2613/10/7
Bases Empty303340
Runner on First Only13139
Grand Slam202
Walk-Off113
Two Out161919
7th Inning or Later201722
Leading off Inning/% of Leadoff AB12/14%9/10%18/16%
Team Ahead/Behind/Tied26/9/2524/16/2125/19/16
Batting Order Position/HR3/603/57, 4/2, 7/21/11, 2/47, 3/2
RBI on HR/% of Team Runs100/10%98/12%92/12%
% of RBI on HR61%70%81%
% of R on HR38%46%47%
Walks/Intentional Walks137/394/094/17
* CF total are for home runs from left-center to right-center. ** Judge’s stats are for games through Sep 21st.

Some observations on the above.

  • Ruth and Maris feasted on the lesser teams much more than Judge has. However, that result is to be expected as Ruth’s Yankees played a balanced schedule against 7 opponents, only 3 of which had a winning record while, for Maris’s Yankees, it was a balanced schedule against 9 opponents, only 3 of which had winning records. In contrast, Judge’s Yankees have played an unbalanced schedule, with almost half their games in a division with three other winning clubs, and a fourth close to the .500 mark.
  • Ruth and Maris exploited the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium much more than Judge has. Partly that was because Ruth and Maris were lefty batters, and partly because the left and center field dimensions in Yankee Stadium in those years were far less conducive to home runs than in new Yankee Stadium today.
  • Judge’s high proportion of RBI coming from his home runs can be attributed to his relative lack of RBI opportunities, with men on base in only 42% of his AB, compared to 55% for Ruth and 46% for Maris.
  • The Leading Off Inning stats for Ruth and Maris should be complete, as there are play-by-play data for all of the Yankee games for those seasons. Judge’s HR rate in this split has been matched only 7 other times in 75+ AB.
  • Ruth and Maris hit almost all of their home runs from the traditional power slot batting 3rd. Judge has only two dingers from that slot, and the rest higher in the order. That speaks volumes about how cold the Yankee offense became in the second half of the season, with Judge moved to the leadoff spot to try to get the offense going. Judge’s 11 HR at the top of the order have come in only 21 games; unsurprisingly, his 60 homers are the most by any player with at least 10 HR batting leadoff, breaking the mark of 50 set by Brady Anderson in 1996.
  • The Intentional Walks for Ruth are likely incomplete, as this became an official statistic only in the 1928 season. That said, Ruth may not have had a great many more than shown here with AL MVP Lou Gehrig batting behind him (Roger Maris’s zero IBB being a case in point, with Mickey Mantle batting behind him). Judge has not had a Gehrig or Mantle batting behind him, a fact reflected in Judge’s high IBB totals (including three IBB leading off an inning).

In terms of the context of these seasons, Ruth was playing in the midst of a live ball era that he had ushered in, with 1927 being the 7th of 19 straight seasons (1921-39) with 4.8 or more runs per game. That offensive surge was even more pronounced in Ruth’s AL, with 5.0 or more runs per game in 13 of those 19 seasons, including the last 11 years (1929-39) in succession. Maris’s 1961 season was an expansion year in the AL, with the league expanding by 25% to 10 teams. Runs per game jumped to 4.53 in the junior circuit, the highest level in a decade and one which would not be reached again until 1977. Judge’s exploits have come in a very different type of season, with runs per game across the majors dropping by 5.1% from last year, the largest year-over-year decline since 2001. The drop in the AL is even more pronounced, down 8.3% from 2021 to 4.22 R/G, the second lowest mark in a full AL season since 1978.

In the context of a down year offensively in baseball, Judge’s home run total is all the more impressive, not least because that offensive decline has been precipitated by an 11% drop from 2021 in AL home runs, and a 26% drop from 2019 levels. Thus, this would be a season to expect players to not put up prolific home run totals. And, that expectation has been borne out. Except, that is, for Judge, who is currently 20 homers ahead of the next highest total in either league. It’s the first time since the end of the 1928 season that a player has had a 20 home run advantage, at any point in a season, over every other major league player.3 Judge stands a good chance of winning the AL home run derby by more than 20 (he is currently 23 HR ahead of Yordan Alvarez); that would break the post-Ruth era record margin for either league of 20, set in the AL in 1956 by Mickey Mantle with 52 home runs to Vic Wertz‘s 32.

Lastly, Aaron Judge stands, at this writing, in triple crown territory, with an insurmountable HR lead, a very comfortable lead of 13 RBI over Jose Ramirez, and the tiniest of leads (less than a point) in BA over Xander Bogaerts, with three others within 10 points of Judge’s .317 mark. Winning the triple crown in a 60+ home run season would truly be the icing on Judge’s remarkable campaign.

1 https://ballparks.com/baseball/american/yankee.htm, Retrieved Sep 22, 2022.
2 https://www.baseball-reference.com, Retrieved Sep 22, 2022.
3 Thanks to HHS contributor Richard Chester for this factoid.
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Richard Chester
Richard Chester
2 months ago

Ruth came to bat with 509 runners on base, Maris had 407 and Judge currently has 393.

Paul E
Paul E
2 months ago

With an OPS+ of 211, Judge is on pace for the highest OPS+ for any 30 year old ever in a season of 500+ PA’s – possibly surpassing Ty Cobb’s mark of 209 in 1917

Paget
Paget
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

Don’t forget the Bambino:
1926 (Age 31): OPS+ 226 652 PA
1927 (Age 32): OPS+ 225 691 PA
1931 (Age 36): OPS+ 218 663 PA

Also, Teddy Ballgame:
1957 (Age 38): OPS+ 233 547 PA

Paul E
Paul E
2 months ago
Reply to  Paget

Paget,
Yes; and Bonds blew a few of those seasons away. The Judge / Cobb record was specifically for 30 year olds

Paget
Paget
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

oh, of course – careless of me to read that as “a player in his 30s.”

Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago

Interesting that Judge got his 61st in team game #155….Is that asterisk-worthy, too? Any thoughts? Maris had 58 thru 154 games….Ruth had 60 in 155 team games in a 154 game schedule ( one tie ). Ruth didn’t homer in the April tie game nor did he homer in team game 155….So, I guess Judge is officially the greatest home run hitter in AL history – “oh, what a tangled web we weave….”

KDS
KDS
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul E

Didn’t Maris hit his 61 in the last 154 games of the season? We celebrate Jackie Robinson on April 15 because that was opening day for the Dodgers in 1947 and was a very common opening day with the 154 game schedule. They added the 8 games to the front of the season, not the back.

Doug
Doug
1 month ago
Reply to  KDS

Maris didn’t hit his first home run in 1961 until the 11th game of the season, and had only 3 HR thru game no. 28.

Judge hit his first home run in game no. 6, but his 2nd thru 9th came in just 10 games, his no. 14 thru no. 23 (team games 14 thru 24).

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug
Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago
Reply to  KDS

Didn’t Maris hit his 61 in the last 154 games of the season?

I don’t think Ford Frick (or whomever it was) was basing his asterisk on the front end or back end – just total number of games scheduled. It’s not like the front eight games or back eight were exhibitions….Judge hit his 61 in team games 6 thru 155 – amere 149 games. I dunno. Maybe it will all become a moot point when Judge hits another 13 HRs in the next 7 team games? 🙂

Bob Eno
Bob Eno
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul E

Frick actually wanted two records (not an asterisked one), one for most HR in a 154-game season and the other for a 162-game season (of which the 1961 AL’s was the first). Maris did hit #61 in the final game of ’61. Frick had managed to so fully drain Maris’s feat of interest that there were only 23K fans in the stands with Ruth’s record on the line. The Boston crowd response was, as I recall, underwhelming. (Frick was Ruth’s biographer/hagiographer, and had an interest in preserving his property value.) I’m a lifelong Brooklyn fan, but I’m so impressed by… Read more »

Doug
Doug
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Eno

Welcome back Bob,

Judge’s accomplishment is truly impressive, without protection in the lineup, batting against three different pitchers most nights, playing an unbalanced schedule in a strong division, almost winning the triple crown, and the last goes on.

All the accolades he receives are richly deserved.

Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Eno

Bob,
Welcome back ! I did not know Frick had ‘skin in the game’ – thanks for the insight

Bob Eno
Bob Eno
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul E

Hi Paul, I actually got the details wrong–Frick was Ruth’s ghostwriter, not biographer. I also misremembered Maris’s #61 as being hit in an away game–it was in the Stadium, vs. the BoSox.

The older I get the more I rely on memory, and the less my memory relies on facts.

Scary Tuna
Scary Tuna
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Eno

Good to hear from you, Bob. Your assessment of your memory made me laugh!

Paul E
Paul E
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Eno

Hey, at least you remembered Tracy Stallard pitched for Boston

Doug
Doug
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Eno

From what I’ve read about that season, most fans were rooting for Mantle to take the record. The Yankees had a 12 game homestand to start September, and with Mantle still in the hunt (and a pennant still up for grabs), that homestand was well attended (except for three mid-week games against the expansion Senators and the Indians). New York went 12-0 on the homestead and increased their lead from 2½ to 11½ games, basically sewing up the pennant. And, Mantle smacked 5 homers to reach 53, still with an outside shot with 17 games remaining. The Yankees then went… Read more »

Bob Eno
Bob Eno
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug

That may be true, Doug. Mantle was certainly the more popular (and far better) player. But there was surely no polling being done and I think this is likely a post-facto contrarian explanation. For me and my friends, the air went out when the 154th game passed. As I recall, the New York area papers began including daily charts comparing Mantle and Maris to Ruth’s pace in mid-summer, as both moved past 40 HRs with lots of games left. Frick’s dictum had come somewhat earlier, but there seemed to be plenty of time to reach 60 within 154 games. The… Read more »

Bob Eno
Bob Eno
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug

Frick made his ruling on July 17, the day Ty Cobb died. The Times headline read, “Ruth’s Record Can Be Broken Only in 154 Games, Frick Rules.” (As you can see, I’m haviing fun browsing the Times archives today.)

Bob Eno
Bob Eno
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Eno

And, just to be OCD, it seems the Times began to track the “race to 60” on July 30. This was the format:

NYT-7-30-61.png
Last edited 1 month ago by Bob Eno