New York Yankees’ star Aaron Judge has been on the AL MVP watch for a while — he is arguably the leading candidate at the moment, depending on your view of Shohei Ohtani’s season. Besides that mammoth goal, he has also been pursuing the Yankees’ (and the American League’s) home run record of 61, established by Roger Maris in 1961. Due to his recent string of strong performances, however, there might be a third objective in sight.
Judge is now officially on Triple Crown watch: yes, as our own Estevão Maximo recently wrote, he has been so good at all facets of hitting that he has a shot (a decent one, in fact) at leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and RBI.
In essence, the hitting Triple Crown is one of the most difficult achievements in baseball. There have been 18 such seasons in the history of the game. For reference, it’s rarer than a perfect game.
The last time someone secured the batting Triple Crown was in 2012, when Miguel Cabrera hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI. Before that one, Carl Yastrzemski was the most recent Triple Crowned player, in 1967.
If you can recall correctly, Cabrera’s Triple Crown earned him the MVP award despite Mike Trout’s breakthrough campaign. Miggy’s performance was thoroughly praised that year — a triple crown, of course, doesn’t take place every year.
After hitting two home runs against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night, Judge’s average is up to .310. That’s the fourth-best mark in the AL (before Wednesday’s games), behind Luis Arraez’s .319, Xander Bogaerts’ .318, and Jose Abreu’s .312. Judge, of course, comfortably leads the young circuit in home runs, with 57, and RBI, with 123. He will have enough motivation to drive him in the stretch run: a home run record to chase, his quest to lead the AL in average, and even reaching 10 fWAR (he entered Wednesday with a 9.7 mark).
If he finishes strong, Judge could have the chance to emulate something that only Lou Gehrig, in 1934, and Mickey Mantle, in 1956, achieved: the hitting Triple Crown is definitely not for everybody. Back in 1934, Gehrig hit .363 with 49 home runs and 165 (!) RBI to lead the American League in all three categories. It is, to this day, one of the greatest offensive seasons ever at the MLB level, but the Yankees couldn’t win the pennant despite having Gehrig and the winner of the pitching Triple Crown, Lefty Gomez. Oddly enough, Mickey Cochrane was named the AL MVP that year.
Mantle achieved a lot of things as a member of the Yankees, and one of them was the hitting Triple Crown in 1956. It was a great time to be a New York baseball fan back then, with both the Yanks and the Brooklyn Dodgers dominating the scene. That season, Mantle led all AL hitters with a .353 batting average, 52 round-trippers, and 130 RBI, leading the Yankees to the World Series title and taking home MVP honors in his league.
The sole fact Judge is chasing a Triple Crown in such a hostile hitting environment tells us he is a really special hitter. The 2022 campaign has been one of the hardest for batting average, as sports researcher James Smyth reminds us:
Judge is hitting all these dingers while also running a .310 BA in one of the most-difficult batting average seasons in baseball history— James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) September 14, 2022
MLB Lowest Batting Average in Season
Even if he falls short of this goal of leading the AL in the three major offensive categories (at least historically), just being mentioned in the same sentence as Gehrig and Mantle is noteworthy. The fact Judge’s 206 wRC+ is currently besting the two Yankees legend’s outputs in 1934 (Gehrig, 194) and 1956 (Mantle, 202) is just icing on the cake.