By Sweeny Murti
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As we inch closer to the halfway mark of the season, we start to wonder where Aaron Judge’s final numbers will end up in this phenomenal rookie year. Can he continue at this pace? Will he tail off a little or a lot? How historic will his final numbers be?
The Yankees record book in the power categories is dominated by lefty sluggers like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and the switch-hitting Mickey Mantle. But Judge, in his first full season, can challenge a lot of Yankee records for right-handed batters.
Heading into Thursday’s finale of the Bombers’ four-game set against the White Sox in Chicago, New York’s 77th game overall, Judge is batting .333 with 27 home runs and 62 RBIs.
He will likely obliterate the Yankees record for home runs by a rookie, which is 29 set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936. What will be more interesting to watch is how close he comes to the franchise mark for a right-handed batter — 54 by Alex Rodriguez in 2007. And to be fair to Judge, we are still too far away from having him count down to the Yankees’ overall record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
The other Triple Crown numbers are probably safe in the team’s record books. Highest batting average by a Yankees right-handed batter is .381 by DiMaggio in 1939. DiMaggio also holds the standard for RBIs by a righty with 167 in 1937.
There are a few records that could be within his reach, including one that is a bit surprising due to who holds it. The record for most walks in one season by a right-handed batter is 119 and it was set by Willie Randolph in 1980. Randolph wasn’t a slugger, but had an excellent eye at the plate. Randolph’s on-base skills (sixth on the all-time Yankees list with 1,005 walks) would be much better appreciated today. If Judge doesn’t break the single-season mark this year, opposing pitchers will most likely help him get there sometime in the next few years.
With the good comes the bad. Judge could shatter Alfonso Soriano’s record for most strikeouts by a Yankee righty — 157 in 2002. The overall team mark is 195 by Curtis Granderson in 2012, which is the same year Granderson hit 26 home runs at home, the most in one year at the current Yankee Stadium, and another record sure to come down (Judge has 18 already).
Judge’s quest for the batting crown will be interesting. Since Mickey Mantle’s Triple Crown year in 1956, only three Yankees have won a batting title — Don Mattingly in 1984, Paul O’Neill in 1994, and Bernie Williams in 1998. The only Yankees right-handed batters to lead the AL in hitting are DiMaggio (1939 and 1940) and Snuffy Stirnweiss (1945).
Even if Judge doesn’t win the batting title, if he stays over .300 he will be looking at another interesting mark. Bobby Bonds of the Giants struck out 189 times in 1970 and hit .302. It’s the highest strikeout total ever for a player with at least a .300 average. Judge could set a new standard at his current pace.
In advanced numbers, Judge’s ridiculously high .426 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is miles ahead of Bonds’s crazy-high mark of .387. The league average is generally around .300.
I don’t know what Bonds’s exit velo’s were, but surely the rockets Judge hits up the middle and into the gaps help him get base hits that are ground outs or soft line-outs for other players.
And while all this is about offense and where Judge’s ceiling is, this is a good time to remind you how good a defender he is in right field. A center fielder in college, Judge displays good speed and instincts as well as a rocket arm in right. And as Brett Gardner pointed out to me, it’s only a matter of time before Judge starts using that 6-foot-7 frame to bring home run balls back over the fence like Dave Winfield used to and win himself a Gold Glove.
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