By: Dawson Wright
August 7th, 2007, Barry Bonds hits his 756th home run which now leaves him on top of the home run list. Followed by an awkward congratulations from Hank Aaron. Fans that should feel joy in the historic moment, don’t. You see Barry Bonds was a known steroid user and pretty much anyone that wasn’t a Giants fan hated him. They knew him breaking the home run record was inevitable, but nobody really cared. For a record as huge as the home run record to now be despised by a majority of baseball fans was disappointing. And then at the end of the season, Bonds is just gone. The Giants didn’t offer him a contract, and in fact nobody did. And it’s not like Bonds was horrible. In his last year he hit .276 and had 28 home runs. After Bonds broke the home run record, and even before that, nobody really wanted to see him anymore. They just wanted him to go away.
But let’s take the whole steroids thing out of the equation, and Barry Bonds arguably is the greatest baseball player of all time. Bonds had a career average of .298 and hit 762 home runs and he probably would have hit more if he didn’t have knee surgery in 2005. His career WAR was 164.4 which is 2nd of all time only behind Babe Ruth. So it’s clear that Bonds was a once in a lifetime player, but there is a new player that has entered the league that has drawn comparisons to Bonds.
Fast forward 10 years later as Yankees rookie Aaron Judge hits home runs number 49 and 50 on the year which breaks Mark McGwire’s rookie record. And guess what he was also on steroids.
Aaron Judge had an “interesting” 2017. The 1st half of the season, Judge hit .329 and hit 30 home runs and to top it off, he took the life out of baseballs at the home run derby.
Then, the second half hit. For the month of July Judge finished with 7 home runs and a .230 average. And then it got worse. In August Judge finished with three home runs and hit .185. But then in September and October, things started to pick up again and Judge got back to normal.
Okay so Judge does have a career total of 56 home runs when he hit 4 in 2016. This brings him 706 home runs from tying Barry Bonds record. And this does bring up an issue for Aaron’s chances for being the new home run record-holder. Aaron Judge is old. No not that old, but he’s still pretty old. Aaron is currently 25 years old and turns 26 on April 26th.
But let’s say Aaron Judge retires at the age of 40, which gives him 15 more years in the league, which seems reasonable. So if we take 762 which was Bond’s career total in home runs and subtract the career amount of home runs Judge has which is 56, you get 706. Then divide that number by 15 and you get 47.06666667. So Aaron Judge would have to hit approximately 47 home runs every year for the rest of his career except one year where he would have to hit 48. This would tie Bond’s record at 762.
Seems doable right? I mean Judge hit 52 home runs so he can only go up from here. I think Judge will have maybe one or two years where he will hit more than 52 home runs but probably not much more than that.
We still have to count for regression. This chart is the statistics from Barry Bonds career all the way from 1986 to 2007. You can see Barry’s numbers start to rise and then they take a spike when he reaches his prime, I mean takes more steroids, and then they start to decrease. That dip in 2005 is from when he had his knee surgery and had to leave early in the 2005 season. But you can see 2006 and 2007 are nowhere near close to his prime years. Yes, the knee surgery could have played a factor in Bond’s play, but age was likely the main contributor.
So Aaron will be going into his age 26 season which is about around where most players start to go into their prime. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aaron Judge hits upwards of 60 home runs next year. I know that number sounds insane for a second year player, but if Aaron doesn't have a massive slump in the middle of the year it’s totally possible, and Aaron isn’t the average 2nd year player. I drew up a chart of what I believe is a possible chart for Aaron Judge to complete:
This chart brings Aaron to a total of 661 home runs which would make him 101 home runs short of tying the record. Don’t get me wrong, these numbers are absolutely insane and if Aaron could put up these numbers, he would for sure be a first-ballot hall of famer. To get Aaron to reach the home run record, he would have to see a constant upgrade in production between 2024-2029 and play for about two more years.
There is one thing that will help Aaron a lot that also did help Bonds, his size. This is a picture of Barry Bonds before, well, you know. And this is a picture of Barry Bonds after. And this is a picture of Aaron Judge now, and this is a picture of Aaron Judge a few years from now.
Look Aaron Judge is a massive dude. Standing at 6 foot 7, 282 pounds, Judge is one of the biggest players in major league history and it’s clear he uses his size to his advantage.
Judge’s power does help him reach pitches like this and drive them hard, but one can’t ignore his strikeout percentage. This is a chart of the average major league strikeout percentage. Here is 1980, that one wasn’t so bad. Here is 1995, so it’s starting to rise, but it’s still not too bad. Here is 2017, where it’s starting to get pretty bad, it’s over 20%. Oh and this right here at the bottom is Aaron Judge. With over a 30% strikeout percentage. Which is horrible, just in case you couldn’t tell.
What I’m getting at here is the only way Judge can get anywhere close to the home run record, is by increasing his contact. The other day I was on fangraphs and I came across an article by Jeff Sullivan. He found that, at least in the last three years Aaron Judge has the highest wOBA on contact out of anyone, by a lot. 2nd is would you look at that Giancarlo Stanton, who is 53 points behind Judge, and people in my comment section still try to tell me the Yankees are overrated.
Anyways, what is wOBA and why does it matter, well wOBA, also known as weighted on base average, is a statistic used to measure a player’s offensive contributions per plate appearance.
wOBA was created by Tom Tango, and it was based off of the idea that not all hits are equal, which is exactly what average calculates. See with average, it doesn't matter what the hit is. Going 2 for 2 which 2 infield singles would be seen as greater than going 1 for two with a grand slam and a flyout.
But back to Aaron Judge, see Aaron has the highest wOBA off of contact, not just standard wOBA. Last year, the highest wOBA was held by Mike Trout, who doesn't strike out as much as Aaron Judge. So obviously, when Aaron Judge makes contact with a pitch, it has a greater chance of going over the fence, rather than when he strikes out, because that’s how baseball works.
Barry Bonds had a career strikeout percentage of 12.2% and his highest rate of strikeouts was ironically his rookie year when he struck out over 20% of the time. But let’s say Aaron Judge brings his strikeout percentage down to Barry Bond’s 12%, how many more home runs would Aaron Judge hit? Well, a lot.
So Judge had a total of 542 at bats in 2017 and he hit 52 home runs. That means he hit a home run every 10.42307692 at bats. And he struck out 30.7% of the time which is about 166.394 at bats. So if Aaron struck 12% of the time, that’s 65.04 at bats, which leaves Aaron approximately 101 at bats left. 101 divided by 10.42307692 is 9.711538462. So we are going to round up and say Aaron Judge hit 10 more home runs which would bring him to a total of 62.
So if Judge does pass Bonds, it would be a moment celebrated by baseball fans everywhere. The commissioner would actually show up to see the record being broken, there would be no awkward speech by Hank Aaron, no asterisk next to his name, just celebration of a great player and his incredible feat.