The road to 62: How Aaron Judge made home run history
8: 09 PM ET
David SchoenfieldESPN Senior Writer
- Covers MLB for ESPN.com
- Former deputy editor of Page 2
- Been with ESPN.com since 1995
His 62nd home run — which came off Texas Rangers righty Jesus Tinoco on Tuesday in the Yankees’ final series of the regular season — moved him past Maris, who held the previous Junior Circuit record with 61 home runs in 1961. Judge also broke Maris’ famed franchise record, previously held by Babe Ruth, who hit 60 in 1927. Now, Judge joins Ruth and Maris as the only AL players to hit 60 or more home runs in a season.
So how did he do it? Let’s break down Judge’s road to 62.
When we all started talking about 62
While Judge’s season hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere — after all, he did hit a then-rookie-record 52 home runs in 2017 — this run to 62 wasn’t exactly anticipated, either. While remaining an enormously productive hitter in the ensuing seasons, after averaging a home run every 10.42 at-bats in 2017, Judge averaged one every 14.14 at-bats from 2018 to 2021. Remaining healthy and playing 148 games in 2021, he hit 39 home runs, hardly a harbinger for a historic season when you consider Brandon Lowe and Mitch Haniger also hit 39.
Judge also didn’t come roaring out of the gate: He hit one home run in his first 13 games. It took some time before everyone realized this could be a special season. My colleague Bradford Doolittle set up a day-by-day spreadsheet for Judge, creating estimated levels of playing time and home run percentage to compute a projected end-of-season home run total (differing from just a straight-up season pace).
Judge began the season with a projected total of 40.9 home runs — which dipped to 39.5 after he went homerless in his first five games. That would equal his lowest projected total. After finishing the abbreviated April schedule with six home runs in 20 games, Judge’s projected total had climbed to 47.9. Impressive, but he was hardly the talk of baseball yet, especially since teammate Anthony Rizzo led the majors with nine home runs in April.
Judge first reached a season pace of 50 on May 13 after homering against the Chicago White Sox but went back and forth between 49 and 50 for 10 days, until homering twice on May 23 in a loss to the Baltimore Orioles, bumping his projected total to 52.6. But he homered just once more the rest of the month, dropping his projection to 50.9. Nobody was talking 62, although Judge’s 18 home runs now topped the majors.
After belting 11 more home runs in June, Judge’s projection had climbed to 54.2 (with a straight-up pace of 61.0). This was starting to get interesting, but you might remember that Yordan Alvarez hit .418 in June, and while he trailed Judge by six home runs, Alvarez had a much higher weighted runs created plus (wRC ), hitting .316/.412/.658 to Judge’s .286/.361/.627. Judge had 62 in his sights, but the debate over the best hitter of 2022 was on.
Then came July — or, more specifically, a hot streak that started just before the All-Star break and saw Judge crack 12 home runs in 14 games through July 30. His projected total was now up to 62.0, and his straight-up pace was a ridiculous 66.7 (and that number would peak Aug. 1 at 67.0).
Judge did slow down a little in August, and a nine-game homerless streak through Aug. 21 dropped his projected total to 58.5 (with a straight-up pace of 61.1). He then responded with another barrage of power in September to make history and join Ruth and Maris in the American League’s 60-homer club.
It’s interesting how Judge’s season tracks with Maris’. Not only did Maris hit 39 home runs in 1960, the year before he hit 61, he also started slow in his recorded-breaking campaign, with just one homer in 15 games in April. Maris was a model of consistency after that, however, with at least 10 home runs in each of the final five months. Maris’ biggest hot streak was a stretch from May 28 to June 22, when he hit 19 homers in 29 contests.
Ruth’s race to 60 was a little different, as he hit nine home runs in each of June, July and August, before finishing with a flourish — 17 in 28 games in September and October, including seven over his final nine games (including a homerless game in the season finale). Of course, Ruth only played 151 games in his 154-game schedule, leading one to wonder what he might have done with an extra eight games.
Then again, Ruth wasn’t seeing too many 95 mph fastballs — and Judge has hit 11 home runs off pitches of at least that speed.
Home-field advantage? Hardly!
Yes, we all know that right field at Yankee Stadium is a joke. There are high school fields where it’s more difficult to hit a home run to right; at Yankee Stadium, it is only 314 feet down the line and doesn’t arc out as quickly as other ballparks. And, yes, for a right-handed batter, Judge is adept at going the other way, as 15 of his 62 home runs went to the opposite field. But, no, he hasn’t really taken big advantage of Yankee Stadium.
On the most basic level, Judge hit 30 of his 62 home runs at Yankee Stadium — one every 10 at-bats. He has hit 32 on the road — one every 8.8 at-bats. Mostly, Judge just doesn’t hit many cheap home runs. His shortest of the season was a 355-foot shot to right, but it came at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. He has hit three 364-foot home runs this year at Yankee Stadium. I reviewed those three:
April 22 off Tanner Tully: Line drive into the third row of bleachers in right field. Not a massive blast and maybe not out at every park, but not one I call a cheap home run.
June 15 off Shane McClanahan: Just over the fence in right-center. Definitely a Yankee Stadium home run given its dimensions in that area of the park.
July 30 off Jon Heasley: Another cheap one in the same vicinity as the homer against McClanahan. In fact, if a fan didn’t reach out to make the catch, Royals right fielder MJ Melendez might have hauled it in.
So, Judge has received a couple of gifts from his park. But he has homered even more often on the road. That doesn’t mean he would have hit this many in every park. Statcast, using just raw distances of his home runs, estimates Judge would have just 49 home runs if he had played all his games at Comerica Park (where right-center is particularly deep). But he would have 70 if he played all his games in Cincinnati or Colorado. So no real home-field advantage here. Sit back and appreciate his feats of strength.
Judge’s most valuable homers
What have been Judge’s biggest home runs? We can rank his top seven home runs by win probability added (WPA), which simply tells us how much the odds of the Yankees winning the game changes after each play (or, in this case, each home run), given the score, inning and number of outs and baserunners.
The most dramatic of Judge’s home runs sent Yankee Stadium into a frenzy as he crushed a 1-2 slider into the second deck in left field in the bottom of the ninth, a 414-foot blast off one of the better closers in the game. That kicked off a stretch of eight home runs in 13 games for Judge.
Judge’s 39th home run came with one out off of a first-pitch, 95 mph fastball from Barlow, a 431-foot shot over the bullpen in center field. This came during Judge’s post All-Star blitz.
With runners at first and third and two outs, the Astros elected to go after Judge. Martinez got a swinging strike on a first-pitch slider, but he came back with another slider — and Judge didn’t miss, sending a low liner over the fence in left-center. Judge nearly cost himself a home run, though: He started making a turn for the dugout after reaching first base, before he was reminded to finish his trot around the bases.
4. May 22: Home run off Kendall Graveman of the White Sox that tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth
Graveman tried to slip an 0-2, 97 mph sinker past Judge but left it up in the zone, and Judge drilled into the second deck in left field (although the White Sox would win the game with two runs in the top of the ninth).
5. July 22: Three-run homer off Baltimore’s Tyler Wells to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead in the third
This one doesn’t seem so dramatic, but it came with two outs (win probability goes up) and with two runners on, meaning the Yankees’ chances of winning the game increased significantly. Judge would add a second home run off Wells as the Yankees held on for a 7-6 victory.
6. Sept. 28: Go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the seventh off Toronto’s Tim Mayza
Judge’s record-tying 61st home run of the season made an impact. At 117.4 mph, the line drive was also Judge’s hardest-hit home run of 2022.
This was Judge’s second game-tying home run that day, coming off a 1-1 slider that he lifted over the Green Monster. If you factor in game importance — mid-September, with the Tampa Bay Rays having clawed closer to the Yankees — this home run deserves a higher ranking. Oh, in the top of the 10th, the Red Sox intentionally walked Judge with a runner on third and two outs. It backfired, as Gleyber Torres would later smack a three-run double, and the Yankees won 7-6.
By the way, average WPA for Ruth, Maris and Judge:
He hits … well, everything
Thanks to the marvels of modern pitch tracking, we know everything about the pitcher-batter confrontation. And I mean everything. One of the coolest Statcast numbers found at MLB’s Baseball Savant site is how each batter fares against different pitches, broken down into overall run value produced.
The best hitter in baseball in 2022? Aaron Judge against sliders, with a run value of plus-28.
The second best? Aaron Judge against four-seam fastballs, with a run value of plus-26.
To show how Judge has dominated the sport, the only other hitter with a run value over 20 against a single pitch is Yordan Alvarez against four-seamers, at plus-21.
Look at Judge’s numbers against individual pitches:
1.254 OPS against four-seamers
1.250 OPS against two-seamers/sinkers
1.191 OPS against curveballs
1.100 OPS against sliders
.794 OPS against changeups
And in limited results, an .832 OPS against cutters and .476 against splitters (2-for-14). Anyway: Judge is punishing everything.
His big improvement in 2022 has come against sliders. From 2017 to 2021, he hit .217/.331/.408 against them, while hitting over .300 against four-seamers and two-seamers. Last season, he ranked 90th in run value against sliders at plus-3 — and as we just saw, he’s No. 1 in 2022.
That all adds up to 62 home runs … and a slice of baseball history.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.