Pete Alonso is a terrific baseball player, and I don’t want this article to be seen as a hit job on him. He is, in many ways, today’s Sammy Sosa — one of the premier power threats in baseball, so adept at putting the ball over the fence that that alone may one day put him in the Hall of Fame, or at least the conversation therein.
But, Sosa was the third or fourth man in that great, late 90s run of hitters. From 1995 to 2001, he was better than Mark McGwire in just one season, 2001. Barry Bonds was better by 16 wins over those seven seasons, and 38 points of wRC+. Sosa was the foil to those two hitters — equal in power output, but just a step below in everything else.
Michael Kay spoke earlier this week about how Alonso may end up the Roger Maris to Aaron Judge’s Mickey Mantle, another example of this foil behavior. Maris is one of those typical, very good, hitters. His career wRC+ is right in line with what Gleyber Torres has done in 2023, the perfect kind of hitter to have in the fifth or sixth spot of a deep lineup. Mantle, of course, is at worst one of the 15 or so greatest MLB players of all time.
And it’s in these comparisons that we can begin to understand how lucky we are to watch Aaron Judge every single day. Alonso is hitting home runs at a terrific rate, and if he matched this pace over the 696 PAs Judge logged last year, Alonso is on pace to hit 61. He famously bested Judge’s then-rookie home run record in 2019, slugging 53 to pass the 2017 AL Rookie of the year.
After that, though, there’s not much comparison between the two. Alonso is one of a stark few in the game that can produce long balls the way Judge can. Otherwise, Judge reaches base more often, produces more extra-base hits that aren’t home runs, plays better defense at a more important position, and at the risk of introducing batting average, has out-averaged Alonso by more than 25 points for his career.
Foils differ from rivals, even if they can operate in the same role over a brief amount of time. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper started their careers as rivals, although the progression of their careers revealed Harper to become Trout’s foil — Trout was a better defender, patrolling center, but significantly less charismatic than the National-turned-Phillie. I’m not sure that Judge and Alonso are rivals; the only way for them to meet in the postseason is in the World Series, they’re not competing for the same awards, and indeed they’re not even on the same level, except for the home run chase.
As the summer goes on and Alonso continues to smack balls out of Citi Field, perhaps even re-enters the Home Run Derby where he would almost certainly be the favorite, the contrast only grows. Aaron Judge is the best hitter in baseball and arguably its best all-around player, so shine on Pete Alonso. As a narrative about Alonso continually chasing Judge’s home run plateaus — he’s already done it once — we’ll just see more and more that he really is the Maris in this relationship.