Comparing the domination of Aaron Judge to Barry Bonds and others

Aaron Judge
Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Just two seasons ago, Aaron Judge set the all-time American League home run record by clubbing 62 dingers in 2022, earning him AL MVP honors for the first time. This year, he’s on pace for 60 homers over the course of 162 games, and 19 of those have come since the beginning of May. Even if he doesn’t keep up this torrid pace and reach 60 bombs, this year may end up being his most impressive.

Since the start of May, Judge is hitting .402 with a .522 on-base percentage (OBP), 19 homers, 44 RBI, 4.4 fWAR, and a wRC+ of 305 (100 is league average). You can point to any stat and it’s just purely ridiculous. His slugging percentage is .984. That would be a great number if that was his OPS (on-base plus slug). He’s unlocked God-mode on a baseball diamond.

Players get hot in stretches all the time, but this is a different kind of run that Judge is on. This season offense is down. Batters around the league are hitting .240 with a .310 OBP on the year. Last season, those numbers sat at a .248 average with a .320 on-base.

That brings us back to the 305 wRC+ that he’s putting up, because that metric is measured against what the league is doing. His 305 also means that he’s three times better than league average. This means that other players aren’t coming close accomplishing what Judge is up to.

Related: Updated MLB power rankings

How Aaron Judge compares to Sammy Sosa in 1998

Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The standout hot streak from a lot of childhoods was the run that Sammy Sosa went on in June of 1998. It was the height of the steroid era, and the year that both Mark McGwire and Sosa were chasing Roger Maris’ home run record. Both players ended up hitting well above Maris’ 61, with Sosa bashing 66 and McGwire notching 70. Each player also hit more than 61 the following year.

But that June performance from Sosa in ’98 resulted in 20 long balls, which is a big-league record to this day. Even in 37 games, Judge has hit “just” 19. Yet, Sosa’s wRC+ in arguably the hottest month a player has ever had by sheer numbers still pales in comparison to Judge’s current run because the wRC+ that the Cubs slugger put up was 193. Sosa hit .298 with a .331 OBP, 20 homers, and 40 RBI in the month, but he wasn’t a standout performer overall. The home runs were the calling card and the memory that sticks with us, but there were actually three players better than Sosa that month.

Jim Thome of Cleveland (202), Jeff Bagwell of Houston (200), and Rafael Palmeiro of Baltimore (196) were all slightly better than sluggin’ Sammy with Palmeiro and Thome hitting above .350 and all three holding an OBP over .400. Sosa was terrific, but he didn’t stand out from the pack enough.

Aaron Judge and a comparison to Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds was the best hitter of this era. Not only did he eclipse McGwire’s 70 home runs with 73 of his own in 2001, but he was also the most feared hitter of the era. He knew the zone and had more to offer than pure power.

In 2001 and 2002, Bonds had two of the best seasons in baseball history in two very different ways. In ”01 he slugged homers and hit .328 with a .515 OBP, which is incredible. That resulted in a 235 wRC+. The following year, the home run total was down (46), but he hit .370 and walked an insane 32.4% of the time, giving him a .582 OBP and a 244 wRC+.

In May of that ’01 season, Bonds hit .369 with a .547 OBP and 17 homers, which resulted in a 278 wRC+. He had three months that were similar to this over the course of the season, which is why the year itself was historic, but never quite reached where Judge is hanging around these days. In August of ’02 he put up a 287 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR.

Related: Find out where Aaron Judge stands in American League MVP race

The debate rages on

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
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This is where things get interesting. Since we’re assessing Judge by his production against his peers, does that mean that baseball players are worse now? That pitchers are ahead of the the hitters (aside from Judge)? Is it because Bonds was playing in the steroid era, and that helped more players get closer to his level, which brought up the league average performance?

These are all points that could be brought up to make a case for whichever opinion you choose to hold. The most logical conclusion is that Bonds was facing a tough task because of the era he was in, whereas Judge is excelling despite the environment that he’s in. At the same time, Judge isn’t being aided by performance enhancing drugs to give him a little boost.

  • Aaron Judge stats (2024): .306 average, 25 HR, 62 RBI, 1.135 OPS

The pitchers of today’s game seem to hold an advantage over hitters by being able to go to a lab and figure out a new pitch pretty quickly. Hitters jobs have always been to react to what’s thrown, but what is being thrown these days seems to defy physics at times.

Bonds and Judge are great in their own ways, and you can choose whichever slugger you’d like in that debate. Although, a better comparison for what Judge is doing this season may be a guy that hit .099 in his career–Pedro Martínez.

Pedro was able to suppress runs like nobody else at the height of the steroid era, winning three Cy Young awards from 1997-2000, and finishing second in the other season. His 1.74 ERA in 2000, when the league average batter hit .270 with a .345 OBP is astounding. That feels like a more apt comparison to what Judge is doing over the past six weeks.

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