Aaron Judge and the Quest for 61

Sixty-one years after Roger Maris hit 61 homers (still the AL single season record, for now) 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 days ago

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

Paul E
Paul E
17 hours 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
16 hours 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
16 hours 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
16 hours ago
Reply to  Paul E

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