Yankees star Aaron Judge is coming off a season in which he hit 62 home runs. His previous career-high was 52, back in 2017. No other player in the game since Barry Bonds has eclipsed 60 dingers. It’s safe to say his raw and game power are unmatched in the league.
Having said that, it’s hard to see him replicating the kind of power numbers he had this past season. To put together such a special campaign requires wall-to-wall excellence, and everything falling into place. One would think that there is no such thing as a perennial 50-homer hitter.
However, Judge is as close as it gets to that kind of floor. In fact, there are reasons to believe he is, indeed, MLB’s lone true 50-homer hitter; a player for whom you say “if he is healthy, he will probably reach that many dingers every year during his prime.” This is not to say that other players won’t reach the 50-homer threshold once or twice, but Judge has the tools to do it consistently for a few more years.
It will be hard for him to hit more than 60 round-trippers again, sure, but looking at the totality of his performance, there are encouraging signs pointing towards a potential repeat or at least a run at least 50. This could very well be the new norm for him provided he plays enough games (a notable “if”, as he enters his early 30’s).
The 2022 campaign marked the third time he eclipsed a 35 percent HR/FB, and it was close to his career 32.3 percent mark. To put it in a better way, around a third of Judge’s fly balls end up beyond the fence. This rate is in no way fluky compared to his usual standards.
Considering his fly ball percentage was a career-high 43.5 percent in 2022, this is an ideal scenario for him. He has eclipsed a 40 percent FB% three times during his career, so it’s not crazy to think he can do it again next year, in 2024, and beyond. Judge puts the ball in the air, and quite often when he does, it carriers over the fence.
Moreover, Judge just didn’t get lucky or take advantage of a fluky trend on his way to 62 homers. He is perennially among the league leaders in hard-hit rate and average and max exit velo, too. If he is healthy enough to play 145-150 games, it’s possible or even likely that he is a 50-homer hitter annually for the duration (or remainder of) his prime if he can keep his barrel rate around 25 percent, like he did in 2017 and 2022.
He barreled 26.5 percent of his batted balls in 2022, leading the league, and is at 20.9 percent for his career. If he can keep doing it about a quarter of the time like he did this past season while keeping a similar FB% and HR/FB, there is no reason why he can’t make a legitimate run at 50 dingers per season for at least a few more years.
Remember, he is 30 and still in his prime. Plus, he has an athletic build, some impressive lower-body strength and has been enjoying better luck on the health department in the last couple of seasons.
Even the projection systems tell us that Judge could continue crush homers at a sky-high rate for the near future. ZiPS currently projects Judge for 46 homers in 2023, though in fewer plate appearances than he recorded in 2022; ZiPS’ homer projection prorated across 700 plate appearances comes out to almost exactly 50 homers.
The last few years of Judge’s contract (when he will be pushing 40) may be ugly, but it’s the price to pay for a true superstar that carried their offense for the whole 2022 season and has been performing at a high level ever since 2017. For now, it’s not at all crazy to expect Judge to be something we truly haven’t seen since Bonds, someone who can clear half a century-mark’s worth of homers year in and year out.