Will Aaron Judge hit 60 home runs this season?

Aaron Judge has bet on himself and it looks like he’s ready to cash in – if he can stay healthy.

After going deep twice in a Monday loss to Baltimore, Judge, 30, the Yankees right fielder, hit 17 major-league homers. That was five more than any other player this season through Monday, but things get really impressive when you compare his season so far to the great seasons of the past.

He had more homers than Babe Ruth in 40 games in 1927 (13). He had more than Roger Maris had until 40 in 1961 (11). He surpassed Sammy Sosa’s 40 games in 1998 (7), 1999 (13) and 2001 (14). He had the same number as Mark McGwire had in 1998, and more than McGwire had in 1999 (12). He was only five short of Barry Bonds’ number in 2001.

These years should sound familiar: they are the eight seasons in which a player hit 60 or more home runs.

“It’s really special,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Monday. “I sometimes take it for granted, but not at the moment. He is a really special player and he obviously carries us really offensively.

Being the top hitter on the top team in the majors is certainly an argument for a bigger deal than the seven-year, $213.5 million contract Judge rejected in the offseason. But if he wants to join the rarefied air of 60 homer hitters, and if he wants to persuade his team to guarantee even more money to a player his age, he will have to stay on the field.

Exceptionally tall for a baseball player, Judge is 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds. While that led to tape measure power, surprisingly quick base running and superb defense, it also led to a spotty injury history. In his four full seasons, he missed 131 games combined. He also missed 32 of the Yankees’ 60 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He only played 150 games once.

To join the 60-home run club, he likely needs to match or even exceed his career-high 155 games played: Over Major League Baseball’s eight 60-home run seasons, players have averaged 156.8 games.

It’s a feat that requires remarkable durability and consistency, a reality heightened by the fact that in six of the eight cases, the player was subsequently hooked up to performance-enhancing drugs. And because of injuries and regression to the mean, even players who had hotter starts than Judge have cooled off as the season progressed.

McGwire was on course for a third consecutive 60-home run season in 2000, with 20–40 games, but injuries limited him to 89 games and 32 home runs. Albert Pujols played 20 in his first 40 games in 2006, but finished with 49. Luis Gonzalez played 20-40 games in 2001, but didn’t reach 60, reaching 57. He recovered quite well, looping an RBI single from Mariano Rivera to clinch Game 7 of that year’s World Series for Arizona.

Three players (Mickey Mantle, Bonds and Jose Bautista) hit 19 in their first 40 games of a season, and they finished with 52, 49 and 43 homers. Ten had 18, and only two of them reached 50 for the season. Due to injuries, Gary Sánchez (2019) and Eric Davis (1987) have not even reached 40 years old.

Judge is likely to calm down even though he remains healthy. Many hitters find the ball carries better as the weather warms, but Judge generally did most of his damage in April, May and September, averaging one home run every 11.6, 11.4 and 11.1 at bat during those months. In June, July and August, when he frequently had to deal with nagging injuries, he homered for every 14.5 at-bats.

For now, the Yankees are enjoying the show. Next month the team is expected to find out how much they have to pay him this season – the New York Post has reported that their long-delayed arbitration hearing is scheduled for June 22 – and after the season they will find out how much he is worth on the free market.

If he stays mostly healthy and tops 50 home runs for the second time in his career – or if things go perfectly and he hits 60 – that can lead to a deal worth a total of 300 million dollars or more. If such a dream season also includes leading the Yankees to their 28th World Series title, they might be happy to pay that much.

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