Expectations were obviously high for Aaron Judge entering the 2023 season. He clubbed an American League record 62 homers to earn himself both a long-coveted MVP award and a $360 million contract in the offseason. He was also named the Yankees’ first captain since Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s retirement in 2014, cementing his status as the leader of this new generation of Bombers.
The start of 2023, however, has been a bit uneven for Judge. He got off to a good start with six homers and a .978 OPS through 18 games, but after a slight dip toward the end of April, he hit the 10-day injured list with a right hip strain. Right then and there, his hopes of hitting 60 bombs again were essentially nipped in the bud, as to reach such numbers in today’s game, a player has to stay healthy for the entire season. To wit, Judge missed just five regular season games in all of 2022.
Nonetheless, with No. 99 back from the IL now, fans will keep on his home run total throughout 2023, especially after launching a pair of bombs in Saturday’s comeback victory and coming oh-so-close to a game-tying blast in the ninth inning yesterday. So since we know that Judge is not reaching the levels of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris again, where might he end up instead?
ZiPS (Dan Szymborski): 41 HR
Steamer: 39 HR
Depth Charts: 39 HR
THE BAT (Derek Carty): 45 HR
THE BAT X (Derek Carty): 42 HR
ATC (Ariel Cohen): 39 HR
The easiest estimation of where Judge could end up can be conveniently tracked on his FanGraphs page. Six different rest-of-season (ROS) projections are listed, which are combined with his current home run total (eight) and cited above. Each system features their own proprietors who use separate calculations and variations. For instance, Carty’s own two BAT projections are different since “BAT X” incorporates Statcast data.
Anyway, the range of 39-45 homers here isn’t sexy, but Judge reached 39 bombs in 2021 in a 149 wRC+ season that saw him finish fourth in AL MVP voting. Although it’s not the true floor (I don’t even want to talk about any scenarios where he gets hurt for an extended period of time), it’s a pretty good “so-so” outcome.
20th percentile: 32 HR
50th percentile: 37 HR
80th percentile: 42 HR
Every season, Baseball Prospectus runs PECOTA projections that not only offer standard results (the 50th percentile versions), but also slightly better and worse versions. Sometimes, hitters can even beat the best possible projection too, as in 2022, Judge’s 99th-percentile outcome per PECOTA was 47 homers! That’s relatively rare though, so the range of outcomes offered is quite interesting to study.
Since PECOTA projections were generated prior to the start of 2023, to produce the 20th, 50th, and 80th percentile outcomes above, I took Judge’s HR/PA rates in each of those PECOTA universes and applied them to a separate projection of how many plate appearances he would get the rest of the way (Steamer’s 485). That was then added to his current home run total. Please note that I am not a PECOTA engineer by any means and I don’t speak for it; this exercise is just for fun with very basic tweaks! I am certainly hoping that we don’t live in that possible 20th-percentile world though.
Return to 2022 pace: 51 HR
PECOTA 99th percentile: 53 HR
Let’s have some fun, shall we? By contrast, I would much rather live in these worlds, barring some kind of weird “Butterfly Effect” situation where the trade-off has highly undesired consequences. “Return to 2022 pace” simply has Judge homering at the HR/PA rate from all of his 62-dinger campaign for the rest of the Steamer-projected 485 plate appearances. And PECOTA’s new 99th percentile is even better than it was in 2022, which makes sense considering how much higher Judge elevated his perceived ceiling. The 53 would even top his breakout Rookie of the Year-winning season of 2017, when he launched 52.
Regardless of Judge’s specific final home run tally, the Yankees will be crossing their fingers for him to crush as many as he can to get his team out of the AL East cellar and back into championship hunt for 2023. After all, breaking home run records is old hat for him at this point; now, he needs a World Series ring.
All cited FanGraphs projections were active as of the start of play on May 14th.