Monday, October 10, 2022


But before we follow through on that somewhat overwrought title, let's give you more of a basic background concerning Aaron Judge's 2022 season and where it, taken as a whole, fits into baseball history. 

The 62 HR thing is already well-known (73-70-66-65-64-63-62-61-60 is the nine-number sequence for those who've hit 60 or more). Judge, with his freshly-set AL record, ranks seventh all-time.

But let's move on to a more comprehensive evaluation of Judge's offensive performance level. We'll use OPS+ (league & park-adjusted on base plus slugging), still the best basic sabermetric summary widely available to us. Judge's OPS+ for 2022, based on his very easy-to-remember raw OPS value (1.111) is 210. That is the 81st time that a hitter with more than 400 PAs in a season has crashed through the 200 barrier, as show in our time-grid™ table at right.

As you can see from the chart, Judge is the first hitter to do this since 2015--any idea who the last 200+ OPS+ guy was? That's right, it's not Mike Trout. (With his 176 lifetime OPS+, it's amazing that Trout hasn't had a 200+ OPS+ season, but his highest score for this measure is 198, achieved in 2018.) No, the correct answer is Bryce Harper, with a 205 OPS+ in 2015.

The chart also tells you that 200+ OPS+ seasons have become rarer since baseball's expansion. From 1901 to 1960, there were 55 such seasons; since 1961, however, there have been only 26 more.

Adding that up, that gives us 81 player-seasons in which a hitter has achieved a 200+ OPS+ performance. Of course, there are a number of hitters who've done it more than once, which means that those incidences have been done by less than forty hitters since 1901. (For the record, there were 15 more such performances during the nineteenth century, including baseball's first superstar two-way player, Bob Caruthers.)

The exact total of players who done it is 36, now that Judge has joined the club.

As you might expect, Babe Ruth achieved this feat more often than anyone: a total of 10 times. Ted Williams was close on his heels, however, with nine instances of 200+ OPS+ seasons. Barry Bonds has the third highest total of uber-dominant years, with six. Then: Lou Gehrig, five; Rogers Hornsby, four; Ty Cobb, four; Jimmie Foxx, three; Honus Wagner; three; Nap Lajoie, two; Joe Jackson, two; Hank Greenberg, two; and Mark McGwire, two.

So that's one dozen repeaters and two dozen one-timers--a neatly tucked-in ratio that just came into existence thanks to Judge's stellar 2022 season.

It's a list littered with Hall of Famers: the only players beside Judge, Harper and Miguel Cabrera (all still active as of this moment) who aren't in the HOF are Dick Allen (hello, clowns on the Vets Committee), Bonds (one more year of pig-headed moralizing left for us to endure...), Norm Cash, Joe Jackson, McGwire (sigh...), Cy Seymour, and Sammy Sosa.

Now, in terms of ranking within the group of 200+ OPS+ seasons, where on such a list does Judge's "210" score reside?

It's 51st on the ranked list, or a bit of the way down into the second half of the rankings. (And speaking of second halves, you may recall that Judge's performance in the second half of 2022--which we'll put into its own context momentarily--ranked very high when we broke the season into two parts. It was his first half that was not quite so spectacularly superlative.)

The top ten is truly a rarefied list, populated by three names only: Ruth, in the #1, #5, #7, and #10 slots (and #11, too, for that matter); Williams, in the #4, #8, and #9 slots (and #12, too); and Bonds, in the #2, #3 and #6 slots (and #13 as well). The OPS+ values descend from Ruth's record value of 287 in the #1 slot down to Bonds' 236 in that lucky #13 slot. These are the greatest offensive seasons of all time, and these three men own the top thirteen of them--and 17 of the top 20! (Lou Gehrig is the first "non-troika" name on the list, at #15; also cracking the top twenty are Mickey Mantle at #18 and Jimmie Foxx at #19.)

Judge isn't really anywhere close to this pantheon, though 210 and #51 is nothing to sneeze at. We get more interesting results--and a sense of the asymmetry that often exists within seasonal performance--when we break years into halves. 

Remember there were 81 player-seasons--full seasons--where hitters produced a 200+ OPS+. When we break things into halves, we find that there are 161 second-half performances at 200 OPS+ or higher, and 123 first-half performances. That asymmetry can be explained in the data parsing done at Baseball Reference, which uses the All-Star Break as its designator for "halves" for about three-quarters of the years in question. There are often significantly fewer games in the second half of the season due to the placement of the All-Star Game, and this makes it easier for hitters to sustain a peak performance level.

And the second half is where Judge truly excelled (even if he hit more of his HRs--33 of his overall total of 62--in the first half). He compiled an OPS+ of 260, stellar enough for tenth place overall. His slash lines for the second half of 2022 are eye-popping: .349/.502/.785 (for a 1.286 OPS).

Judge's first half produced an OPS+ of 173, which is not exactly chopped liver (as the saying goes...) but, astonishingly, ranks 579th among first-half performances all-time! His slash lines for the first half of 2022 are: .284/.364/.618 (for a .982 OPS).

Interestingly, Judge's first half in his rookie season of 2017 ranks 108th all-time, and cracks the 200 barrier for OPS+ at 201. Put this performance level in tandem with his torrid finish in 2022 and you'd have a season performance that would register in the top 25 all-time. 

We'll be back with more of the first half/second half performance leaders as we continue our "Sizzling Up the Second Half" series as we keep an eye on the 2022 post-season--an arena that Judge and the Yankees will be entering tomorrow...