Aaron Judge on track to surpass 2022 home run record in 2024

New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge celebrates after reaching third base on a two-run triple against the Minnesota Twins on June 5, 2024, in New York

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Considering his current hot streak, Aaron Judge seems to be on track to break his own home run record in the 2024 season. If he does it, the Yankees slugger will be the only second American League hitter to do so after Babe Ruth. The question now is whether Aaron Judge could join that elite company by the end of 2024.

There are reasons to believe Aaron Judge is poised to achieve this feat. Although he is currently trailing his 2022 pace, when he hit a record-breaking 62 homers, his recent form suggests he could close the gap. In 2022, Aaron Judge had 25 home runs through the Yankees’ first 62 games; this year, he has 21 homers at the same stage, putting him on pace for “only” 55 home runs if he plays all 162 games.

However, Yankees manager Aaron Boone advised against counting Aaron Judge out of another record-breaking season. Boone highlighted that the slugger is on a scorching streak, comparable to his best period two seasons ago.

“He’s in such a good place,” the manager told after the captain led the Yankees to a big win over the Giants. “The difference between him and most other guys is, when guys get hot and hit it off the barrel, they rack up some hits. When he gets hot and hits it off the barrel, it’s in the seats. It’s fun to keep watching that.”

In 2022, it took Aaron Judge until July and August to hit 15 homers in a 25-game span; he has recently achieved that between May 5 and June 1 this year.

Although it might seem early to start obsessively checking box scores to see if he hit another home run record, Boone suggested it might be warranted if Aaron Judge hits 30 homers by the end of June. Given his performance right now, such a milestone seems within reach.

Lineup changes helping Aaron Judge

New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge reacts after hitting a home run against the San Francisco Giants during the sixth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Friday, May 31, 2024.
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Given the choice, batters generally prefer pitches in the strike zone, and Aaron Judge is no exception. An analysis of his 278 career home runs reveals that 262 have come off pitches within the zone.

Data indicates Aaron Judge is seeing more strikes this year than in 2022, with 48.4 percent of pitches in the zone compared to 45.7 percent last season. Several factors could explain this increase, but the notion that pitchers are less intimidated by the 6’7″, 282-pound slugger, despite his advancing age, doesn’t hold. Aaron Judge is still hitting with formidable power.

A more plausible explanation is the composition of the Yankees’ lineup around Aaron Judge, who typically bats third. Anthony Volpe, with a .350 on-base percentage, and Juan Soto, with an OBP of .418, often precede him. This has led to him batting with runners on base in 49 percent of his plate appearances, up from 44 percent in 2022.

This scenario provides Aaron Judge with more opportunities to swing as pitchers are less likely to pitch around him with men on base, a tactic that could load the bases further. Pitchers prefer to challenge him directly, even at the risk of a home run.

Additionally, Aaron Judge’s strike rate has risen since Alex Verdugo replaced Giancarlo Stanton in the cleanup spot in May. Verdugo has proved a more effective protector, boasting a .714 OPS compared to Stanton’s .514 OPS.

In 2022, a typical fly ball off Aaron Judge’s bat traveled an average of 311 feet. This year, that distance has increased to 318 feet, likely due to an increase in exit velocity by 1.1 mph over his 2022 average.

The improvement isn’t just in the power of Aaron Judge’s hits but also their type. In 2022, ground balls accounted for 37.3 percent of his batted balls. This year, that number has dropped to 31.6 percent, a positive development as ground balls rarely clear the outfield fence.

Aaron Judge rediscovers the power of pull hitting

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Until recently, one area where Aaron Judge had struggled in 2024 was pulling the ball to left field. Although Judge’s power to all fields mitigates the importance of this aspect, it still holds significance. When Judge pulls the ball to left, he slugs .990, with two-thirds of his fly balls in that direction resulting in home runs.

By early May, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was contemplating switching Juan Soto and Aaron Judge in the batting order due to Judge’s performance. By May 2, Judge had only pulled two fly balls, producing a .725 OPS and six home runs over 33 games. Clearly, his swing was off.

Aaron Judge’s turnaround began with extra guidance from hitting coach James Rowson. This adjustment has paid off, as indicated by his improved swing. Since May 3, he has pulled eight fly balls in 28 games, with all but one resulting in a home run.

Can he avoid injuries and repeat history?

Yankees' star Aaron Judge rounds bases after hitting a mammoth 460-feet home run at Oracle Park against the Giants on June 1, 2024.
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Predicting Aaron Judge will surpass his own record of 62 home runs this season might be overly optimistic, considering the rarity of 60-homer seasons in MLB history. With only nine such seasons ever recorded, the odds are stacked against him. Even fewer players have reached this milestone more than once, a feat only achieved by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, both under the shadow of performance-enhancing drugs.

Moreover, Aaron Judge’s history of injuries adds another layer of uncertainty. The torn toe ligament that sidelined him for six weeks last season remains a concern. His slow start this season was scrutinized, with his toe injury and abdominal discomfort from spring training still lingering.

Despite these challenges, a more intriguing prediction suggests Aaron Judge might break his own home run record. According to Statcast data, Judge’s current 21 homers are slightly below his expected 22. This suggests he might be underperforming relative to his potential as a home run hitter.

If Aaron Judge can stay healthy, there are compelling reasons to believe he can maintain his current pace. His performance metrics, such as expected slugging percentage and expected weighted on-base average, indicate that this version of Judge is one of the most formidable hitters of the past decade.

As the season progresses, everyone should be alert to the possibility of Aaron Judge setting a new home run record, including the record-setting Aaron Judge of 2022.

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