Chasing 60: Aaron Judge is pursuing history, but other home run milestones are in reach
- Only two men have ever reached 60 home runs outside the Steroid Era, but as he will demonstrate in tonight's Home Run Derby, the Yankees' rookie rightfielder could become the third.
Last Friday night, Aaron Judge launched his third home run in as many games and his 30th of the season, good not only for the major league lead but for the Yankees' rookie record, surpassing the 29 hit by Joe DiMaggio in 1936. The 25-year-old rightfielder, who leads the majors in a whole host of key categories both traditional and advanced, is the number two seed from among the eight competitors in Monday night's Home Run Derby at Marlins Park. Defending champion, hometown favorite and—at 6'6", Judge template—Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins is the number one seed for what should be an entertaining spectacle.
In a year where balls are flying out of the yard at a record pace of 1.26 per team per game, up from last year's 1.16 and the all-time high of 1.17, set in 2000, it's worth a look at the pace of Judge and other top home run hitters, because some interesting milestones would appear to be in reach.
Aaron Judge, Yankees
Current total: 30
Projected total: 57
It's tempting to look at that projected total and wonder if Judge can get to the still-sacred ground of 60 home runs, a figure that has been reached just eight times in baseball history and only twice outside the Steroid Era. Don't count on it. Judge has hit his 30 homers in the Yankees' 86 games (he's gotten a couple of full days off, and came off the bench twice as well). New York has just 76 games remaining for him to match that total, meaning that he’d have to increase his homers-per-team-game output by just over 13%, or around 8% if he forgoes full and partial days off, something that’s difficult to imagine manager Joe Girardi allowing. Maintaining his current clip into the dog days of August will be hard enough for Judge.
Even without catching the Babe, Judge still has a chance at some lofty company. His projected total would be the highest in the majors since Ryan Howard's 58 for the Philles in 2006, the highest in the AL since Alex Rodriguez hit that many for the Rangers in 2002, and the most by a Yankee since Roger Maris set the then-single-season record with 61 in 1961. Fifty-seven homers would also obliterate the rookie home run record of 49 set by Mark McGwire in 1987. Big Mac was the last rookie to lead his league in homers, and just the second AL player after the Indians' Al Rosen with 37 in 1950.
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Current total: 25
Projected total: 51
Bellinger's total is even more impressive considering that he didn't even debut in the majors until April 25, the Dodgers' 21st game of the year. The 21-year-old slugger hasn't missed a game since his arrival, though he has come off the bench three times. Over a full 162-game schedule, his total projects to 58, but even with the lost time, he's got a very real shot at toppling both the franchise record (49, set by Shawn Green in 2001) and the NL rookie record (38 by the Reds' Frank Robinson in 1956). He also has a chance to become just the third NL rookie to lead the league in homers after the Washington Senators' Buck Freeman with 25 in 1899 (the final year before that team folded; the first AL version of the Senators was established two years later) and the Pirates' Ralph Kiner with 23 (!) in 1946, the year before the first Rookie of the Year award was established.
If Bellinger and Judge—or any two other players—both reach 50, it would be the majors' first pair at that plateau since 2007, when A-Rod (57 for the Yankees) and Prince Fielder (50 for the Brewers) did so.
George Springer, Astros
Current total: 27
Projected total: 49
Springer’s 27 homers place him second in the majors behind Judge (alas, he won't be part of the Derby), and he's in range of making some history of his own. All of his homers have come out of the leadoff spot, placing the major league record of 39, set by Alfonso Soriano for the Nationals in 2006, in danger of being surpassed. Nine of Springer's homers have come in the first inning, giving him a chance at Rodriguez's record of 18, set with the Rangers in 2001. In this case, those nine have all been as the Astros' first batter of the game, putting him within range of Soriano's 13 for the Yankees in 2003. Four of Springer's homers have been on the first play of the game (i.e., leading off when the Astros were the road team), which means he's a bit behind pace for the record of nine, shared by Soriano and the Orioles' Brady Anderson from 1996. Forty-nine homers would surpass Jeff Bagwell's 47 (hit in 2000) as the franchise record.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Joey Votto, Reds
Current total: 26
Projected total: 48
Both sluggers are both on pace for this total; Stanton hit five homers in his past five games to overtake Votto and Bellinger for the NL lead. Forty-eight homers would represent career highs for both players, who have never hit more than 37; Stanton reached that total in 2012 and matched in '14, the only other time he's led the league, while Votto hit 37 in 2010. Stanton has a very good shot at the Marlins' franchise record of 42, hit by Gary Sheffield in 1996, while Votto has some catching up to do to surpass George Foster's 52 from 1977.
Mike Moustakas, Royals
Current total: 25
Projected total: 47
A Derby participant, Moose has already topped his career high of 22 homers, set in 2015, and is on pace to crush the Royals' single-season franchise record of 36, set by Steve Balboni in 1985. Note that the Curse of the Balboni—a term coined by Baseball Prospectus co-founder Rany Jazayerli—has long since fallen; from 1985 to 2000, no team with a player who hit more than 36 homers won the World Series, but Luis Gonazlez (57 for the 2001 Diamondbacks) broke the curse, and since then so have eight other players.
Speaking of 2001 and 47, note that if six players hit at least that many homers, it would be the most in the majors since that season, when eighty players—Gonzalez, Green, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome—did so.
Khris Davis, A’s
Current total: 24
Projected total: 44
Davis’ current pace would make him the only one of last year's eight 40-homer players to repeat the feat. If you're asking, 2016 MLB leader Mark Trumbo, who hit 47 last year, has 14 at this writing, putting him on pace for just 25, but that's still a lot better than the fate of Chris Carter, who after hitting an NL-high 41 last year has just eight this year (in 208 PA) and has been designated for assignment twice by the Yankees. Even if he were to be released and play regularly during the second half, Carter would likely fall short of 20 given his current rate per plate appearance; he'd need another 312 PA, which isn't happening in a span of roughly 70 games.
Jay Bruce, Mets, Logan Morison, Rays and Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
Current total: 23 (Bruce, Ozuna); 24 (Morrison)
Projected total: 43
If Bruce isn't traded prior to the July 31 deadline, he'd have a shot at the Mets' single-season record of 41, shared by Todd Hundley (1996) and Carlos Beltran (2006). Ozuna is racing Stanton to Sheffield's franchise record, while LoMo—whose 24th and most recent homer, hit on July 1, set a new career high—needs to speed things up to get to Carlos Pena's team record of 46, hit in 2007.
Justin Smoak, Blue Jays
Current total: 23
Projected total: 42
Smoak has already set a career high with 23 homers. His current pace would not only more than double his previous career high of 20, set in 2013, but would surpass the 39 he hit in three seasons combined from 2014 to '16.
Eric Thames, Brewers
Current total: 23
Projected total: 41
With eight homers in the Brewers' first 17 games, Thames became a household name after three years in the Korean Baseball Organization, but he also set an unsustainable pace. He hit 11 homers in April but has added only 12 more in the two-plus months since while batting just .205/.332/.453. He missed out on being invited to the Derby, but his 7-for-21 start to July (with three homers), offers a clue that he's shaken his slump.
Scott Schebler, Reds
Current total: 22
Projected total: 40
Schebler had never played regularly until the Reds dealt Bruce to the Mets last Aug. 1. With two more homers this year, he’ll double his previous career total of 12, hit with the Dodgers in 2015 and the Reds last season.
More notably, if Schebler and the other 12 players above all reach the 40 plateau, it would be the most in the majors since 2000, when 16 reached that level. The record is 17, set in 1996.
Three other Derby participants aren’t too far off the pace for 40: the Twins’ Miguel Sano (21 now, on pace for 39), the Marlins’ Justin Bour (20 now, on pace for 37), and the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon (20 now, on pace for 36). The lone Derby participant who projects to fall far short of the total is the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, who has 13 so far; projecting his current per-team-game rate over a 141-game schedule (he missed 21 with a triceps strain) yields 28. The Rangers’ Joey Gallo (21 homers now, on pace for 39) and the A’s Yonder Alonso (20 now, on pace for 36) would appear to have better shots, particularly if the latter is traded to a more homer-conducive environment than the Oakland Coliseum. Let’s not forget Sanchez’s flurry late last year, though. He hit 20 over the Yankees' final 56 games; if he were to match that over their remaining 66 games, he’d hike his total to 37.