- Covers MLB for ESPN.com
- Former deputy editor of Page 2
- Been with ESPN.com since 1995
A year after a remarkable MVP campaign that saw him break Roger Maris’ long-standing American League record with 62 home runs, Aaron Judge looks poised for an encore performance.
In his first at-bat of 2023, he swung and connected on a sinker from San Francisco Giants pitcher Logan Webb that veered back into the middle of the strike zone. Judge sent the ball on a high arc toward the center-field wall, just past the outstretched glove of a leaping Mike Yastrzemski.
“He’s done it already,” Yankees announcer John Sterling exclaimed as Judge rounded the bases to a standing ovation, greeting his teammates in the dugout with a big smile.
Judge is off to a solid start with five home runs and a .286 batting average through Sunday. A season ago, he homered just once in his first 13 games. He even had a couple other relatively cold stretches: a nine-game homerless stretch in August and, as he closed in on Maris, one home run over 13 games before he finally hit record-breaking No. 62 in the Yankees’ next-to-last game.
Can he do it again? The assumption: probably not. Judge knows he’s battling history. After all, the last player with even back-to-back 45-homer seasons was Ryan Howard, who did it four straight seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies from 2006 to 2009.
“I know very few followed up with 60. A couple I know hit 50 after that. But we’ll see what happens,” Judge said on Opening Day. “Maybe we can make a new list. We’ll see.”
Judge not only crushed home runs in 2022 but hit for a high average (.311) and drew a ton of walks (111), giving him an overall line of .311/.425/.686. Via the metrics at Baseball-Reference.com, Judge created an estimated 80 runs more than the average batter would have over the same number of plate appearances (adjusting for home park and league run-scoring environment, so a player from low-scoring 1968 can be compared to a player from high-scoring 2001). Since the beginning of the expansion era in 1961, only three players created more runs above average in a season than Judge: Barry Bonds (three times), Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, with Mickey Mantle matching Judge at +80 in 1961.
Let’s break down what Judge may accomplish in 2023 by digging into the past and considering three areas of performance: 1) Career seasons; 2) The consistency of great hitters; 3) What happens in the season immediately following a great season.
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