Juan Soto Is Going to Score A Bajillion Runs Hitting In Front of Aaron Judge

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The internet has democratized so much of our society, but nothing more than hating baseball teams. A generation ago, everyone was sick to death of the Yankees, but now it seems like half the league is one obnoxious fan tweet or one ill-timed bat flip or clueless GM comment from becoming the pariah of the week. It can get a little hard to track sometimes.

So in some respects, this week’s Juan Soto trade is a welcome throwback to old times. A no-doubt top-tier superstar has drifted across the great material continuum and found himself, almost by accident, resplendent in pinstripes and razor burn. A trade to make Yankees fans rejoice, and the vast majority of our great, God-fearing nation go, “Ugh, these freakin’ guys.”

Nevertheless, Soto’s arrival in New York offers an opportunity to witness something unusual. Assuming Aaron Boone figures out that Soto should go in front of Aaron Judge in the batting order, we’re about to see the best on-base guy of his generation batting ahead of the best power hitter of his generation.

Personally, I think there’s been too much attention paid to how many home runs Soto could hit when confronted with Babe Ruth’s short porch in right field. Soto has plenty of power, but that’s not his game. He has never hit more than 35 home runs in a season, and has only broken 30 twice in six seasons.

On the other hand, Soto has drawn at least 130 walks in each of the past three seasons. The only other active player with three 130-walk seasons is Joey Votto, and by the time Soto makes his Yankees debut, Votto might be a full-time TikToker and not an active ballplayer. The only player with more 130-walk seasons in the expansion era is Barry Bonds:

Multiple 130-Walk Seasons, Since 1901
Player Count First Season Last Season
Babe Ruth 9 1920 1932
Barry Bonds 7 1996 2004
Ted Williams 7 1941 1954
Eddie Yost 4 1950 1959
Juan Soto 3 2021 2023
Joey Votto 3 2013 2017
Eddie Stanky 3 1945 1950
Mark McGwire 2 1998 1999
Jeff Bagwell 2 1996 1999
Frank Thomas 2 1991 1995
Jack Clark 2 1987 1989
Harmon Killebrew 2 1967 1969
Ferris Fain 2 1949 1950
Lou Gehrig 2 1935 1936
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

And again, Soto is 25 years old. If you’re unimpressed with a raw walk total, how about this list of the highest OBPs since 2000:

.400 OBP Since 2000
Name OBP
Barry Bonds .517
Larry Walker .421
Juan Soto .421
Todd Helton .419
Manny Ramirez .417
Mike Trout .412
Joey Votto .409
Jason Giambi .407
Lance Berkman .407
Chipper Jones .404
Edgar Martinez .401
Min. 1,500 PA
Active players in blue
Apologies to Brian Giles, who has an OBP of .3995 since 2000

This is pretty close to a list of the best hitters of the past 25 years. Judge is not too far off, with an OBP of .396; Bryce Harper, Yordan Alvarez, and Freddie Freeman are all in the top 25 as well. But Soto is up there, tied with Hall of Famer Larry Walker for the best non-Bonds OBP of the 21st century.

The point is, Soto is on base all the time, and since the days of Ty Cobb and Wahoo Sam Crawford, we’ve known a certain truth about baseball: You want a guy who gets on base at the top of the lineup, and a guy who hits for power behind him to drive him in.

If I were Aaron Boone, I might lead Soto off and hit Judge second, just to get this pair up as much as possible. I saw a mocked-up Yankees lineup with Soto second and Judge third. That’d be fine too. Or Soto third and Judge fourth — anything that gets them up near the top of the order with Soto ahead of Judge.

I don’t love the Yankees lineup as currently constituted. After Soto and Judge, there’s a big drop-off to players who are old, injury-prone, or just not all that good to begin with. But this pair could be an offense all to themselves.

I’ve picked two cutoff points for OBP and SLG and run them through Stahead: a .440 OBP, which Soto has reached twice, and a .610 SLG, which Judge has reached three times. Let’s say that’s on the optimistic side of reasonable for this pair.

In the AL/NL era, a hitter gets to these cutoff points about twice a season. The most common way for a single team to have a .440 OBP season and a .610 SLG season in the same lineup is for one player to hit both marks. In the 1940s and 1950s, one Stan Musial, Ted Williams, or Mickey Mantle would do both basically every season.

But on 24 occasions in AL/NL history, a single team has had one player with a .440 OBP and a different player reach a .610 SLG:

One Teammate .610, Another Teammate .440 OBP
Team Season >= .610 SLG >=.440 OBP
SLB 1922 Ken Williams George Sisler
CLE 1923 Tris Speaker* Joe Sewell
SLB 1925 Ken Williams Harry Rice
NYY 1927 Lou Gehrig* Babe Ruth*
PHA 1927 Al Simmons Max Bishop, Ty Cobb
NYY 1928 Lou Gehrig* Babe Ruth*
CHC 1929 Rogers Hornsby*, Hack Wilson Riggs Stephenson
PHI 1929 Chuck Klein Lefty O’Doul*
PHA 1929 Al Simmons Jimmie Foxx*
NYG 1930 Bill Terry* Mel Ott
CHC 1930 Gabby Hartnett Hack Wilson*
PHI 1930 Chuck Klein Lefty O’Doul
NYY 1931 Lou Gehrig* Babe Ruth*
PHA 1933 Jimmie Foxx* Max Bishop, Mickey Cochrane
DET 1935 Hank Greenberg Mickey Cochrane
NYY 1936 Bill Dickey Lou Gehrig*
DET 1937 Hank Greenberg, Rudy York Charlie Gehringer
NYY 1937 Joe DiMaggio Lou Gehrig*
NYY 1939 Joe DiMaggio* George Selkirk
NYY 1961 Roger Maris Mickey Mantle*
SEA 1996 Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez Edgar Martinez
CLE 1996 Albert Belle Jim Thome*
SEA 1997 Ken Griffey Jr. Edgar Martinez
COL 2001 Todd Helton Larry Walker*
*Qualifies in both columns

I want you to understand that when I talk about Soto as a potentially historic on-base/power combination, this is what I’m talking about without an ounce of hyperbole. Okay, maybe not literally Ruth/Gehrig, but Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr., or Bill Terry and Mel Ott. Soto will be a Hall of Famer unless he retires to pursue a culinary career before he turns 30; Judge might have a hard time overcoming the late start to his career, but he’s inarguably having a Hall of Fame peak. And when you put two Hall of Famers with complementary skill sets together in a lineup, this is what you get.

Take another look at this list and see if you notice anything. There’s the 1927 and 1961 Yankees, Hack Wilson’s 191-RBI season, and some historically great offenses. But the one thing every set of teammates on this list has in common is that they played during a bonkers offensive era. From the introduction of the live ball to World War II was basically pinball played in jewel box ballparks. It made late-1990s college baseball look like the Dead Ball Era. The only post-integration teams on the list played either in 1961 — a lefty and a switch hitter in old Yankee Stadium in an expansion year — or the Steroid Era.

That’s why, whatever Soto and Judge do, they probably won’t set any actual records. The all-time single-season record for runs scored is 198, set by Sliding Billy Hamilton in 1894. That probably won’t be coming down anytime soon. Ruth set the modern record for runs scored in 1921. Gehrig scored 167 in 1936, which is not only the second-highest mark of the modern era, it’s also the most recent season in which anyone’s gotten closer than 25 runs to Ruth.

It’s the same with RBI. Wilson’s 191 was most recently challenged by Gehrig. Manny Ramirez has the post-World War II record, 165, and only three 21st century players have driven in 150 runs in a season. Judge set a career high of 131 in his 62-homer campaign two seasons ago.

So what should our measure for historic success be? In order to find out, I got into Excel, which you should read in the same tone as “Oh no, Grandma got into the schnapps again.”

I considered just filtering out every season from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1990s and coming up with a list of top run-scorers from normal offensive environments. But instead, I whipped up a quick(ish) and dirty (definitely) adjustment for offensive environment. I took the top run-scoring seasons in baseball history and calculated how many runs the player scored per team game: 154 games from 1901 to 1960, and 162 from 1961 to present, with the exceptions of seasons shortened by work stoppages or global pestilence. (The league averages turned out to be 107 games for 1981, 114 for 1994, 144 for 1995, and 60 for 2020.)

This way of measuring things is not without its hazards; for instance, I’m about to show you a leaderboard that credits Cobb with two of the best run-scoring seasons ever, based on the assumption that the Tigers played 154 games in those seasons. In fact, Cobb played 156 games in those seasons, thanks to a handful of games being called off as ties in each season. (“More like Tie Cobb,” you might say.)

With each player’s runs per team game in hand, I created a scoring coefficient for each season by dividing the mean of each year’s scoring average (about 4.42 runs per team per game) by each season’s league-wide scoring average. Multiplying that number by the player’s runs scored per team game yielded an adjusted R/TG figure and an adjusted run total. You could be quite a bit more rigorous about this by using park factors and more complex measures of the scoring environment, but that’s a project for another day, and almost certainly another writer.

Anyway, here are the best adjusted run-scoring seasons in AL/NL history:

Top Run-Scoring Seasons, 1901-Present
Season Name Team Adj. R/TG Adj. Runs Games Runs Lg. R/G
1915 Ty Cobb DET 1.08 167 156 144 3.81
1921 Babe Ruth NYY 1.04 160 152 177 4.89
1920 Babe Ruth NYY 1.03 159 142 158 4.39
1909 Tommy Leach PIT 1.02 157 151 126 3.54
1946 Ted Williams BOS 0.98 150 150 142 4.17
1942 Ted Williams BOS 0.97 149 150 141 4.17
1931 Lou Gehrig NYY 0.97 149 155 163 4.83
1928 Babe Ruth NYY 0.97 149 154 163 4.84
1909 Ty Cobb DET 0.94 145 156 116 3.54
1927 Babe Ruth NYY 0.94 144 151 158 4.84

So this is a list of four of the top 10 or 15 position players of all time, plus Tommy Leach. And because I know you’re wondering who the hell Tommy Leach was: He’s the guy who hit second on the 1909 Pirates. The next two guys in the lineup were Hall of Famer Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner, whom you might know. Which would seem to illustrate the importance to Soto of having Judge behind him this coming season.

But this is just a list of old-timey guys. You have to get out of the top 10 to even get past integration. So here are the top 10 adjusted run-scoring seasons of the expansion era:

Top Run-Scoring Seasons, 1961-Present
Season Name Team Adj. R/TG Adj. Runs Games Runs Lg. R/G
1985 Rickey Henderson NYY 0.92 149 143 146 4.33
1981 Rickey Henderson OAK 0.92 98 108 89 4.00
1972 Joe Morgan CIN 0.90 146 149 122 3.69
1976 Pete Rose CIN 0.89 144 162 130 3.99
1971 Lou Brock STL 0.88 143 157 126 3.89
2023 Ronald Acuña Jr. ATL 0.88 143 159 149 4.62
1972 Bobby Bonds SFG 0.87 141 153 118 3.69
1981 Dwight Evans BOS 0.87 93 108 84 4.00
2011 Curtis Granderson NYY 0.87 140 156 136 4.28

I was starting to get worried about how far into this post I’d gone without seeing Rickey Henderson’s name. But seeing Acuña on that list just makes me want to jump ahead to what we should really be judging Soto (and, by extension, Judge) against in 2024. These are the best run-scoring seasons of the Wild Card era:

Top Run-Scoring Seasons, 1995-Present*
Season Name Team Adj. R/TG Adj. R Games Runs Lg. R/G
2023 Ronald Acuña Jr. ATL 0.88 143 159 149 4.62
2011 Curtis Granderson NYY 0.87 140 156 136 4.28
2022 Aaron Judge NYY 0.85 137 157 133 4.28
1997 Craig Biggio HOU 0.83 135 162 146 4.77
2001 Sammy Sosa CHC 0.83 135 160 146 4.78
2013 Matt Carpenter STL 0.82 134 157 126 4.17
1997 Larry Walker COL 0.82 132 153 143 4.77
2012 Mike Trout LAA 0.81 132 139 129 4.32
2007 Alex Rodriguez NYY 0.81 132 158 143 4.8
2000 Jeff Bagwell HOU 0.81 131 159 152 5.14
*Excluding 2020

Well, almost. No. 10 on the list was Freeman in 2020, and while I’m willing to countenance a little bit of schedule wonkiness, especially on the post-1961 list, 60 games is a bit extreme. Plus, knocking Freeman off allowed me to include 2000 Jeff Bagwell, who holds the post-World War II record for runs scored in a season.

(Brace yourself, I’m about to start a sentence about the reigning unanimous NL MVP with “I think it went a little under the radar…”)

I think it went a little under the radar that Acuña scored 149 runs this past season. That’s the most since Bagwell and the third-highest total since 1901 in a season in which league-wide scoring was not at least 9% above the historic average. (No. 1 and no. 2 were Ruth in 1920 and Ted Williams in 1949.)

It took a perfect confluence of events. Not only did Acuña have a .416 OBP and advance himself along the bases by stealing 73 bags, he played 159 games, all starts, and led off every game he played. More than that, the three most common hitters behind him were Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, and Matt Olson. All three of those hitters slugged .510 or better; Olson hit 54 home runs. Few players have ever put themselves in a better position to score runs, and few players have ever had so much support from their teammates.

What would count as a historically great run-scoring season for Soto? Let’s call it 0.80 adjusted runs scored per team game. We actually had a pretty wild swing in run-scoring environment from 2022 to 2023 — there were some rule changes, I don’t know if you heard. Scoring was about 3% down from the historic average in 2022, but 4.5% over the average in 2023. But 130 to 140 runs would qualify as an all-time great scoring season from Soto.

But the Acuña example raises an obvious question for next year’s Yankees: Who hits behind Judge? If Giancarlo Stanton is healthy (and I’ll wait for you to stop laughing), both Soto and Judge could be in for monster run-scoring seasons. Otherwise, the Yankees might need another big move, or an unexpected breakout season.

Or perhaps I’ve misread this whole thing, and the big story for 2024 is not going to be Soto’s 140-run season, but Anthony Rizzo’s 170-RBI season hitting behind Soto and Judge.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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downbaddav
2 months ago

i think he’s gonna score a ton of runs, but he is severely limited by his plodding speed. it’s remarkable how he already plays like mid 30s bonds when he’s still in his mid 20s

crocb3
2 months ago
Reply to  downbaddav

If you could get thrown out during a base on balls Soto would have a rough time.

CC AFCmember
2 months ago
Reply to  downbaddav

Good thing there’s no time limit on rounding the bases when there’s a homer then

Left of Centerfield
2 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Shh…don’t give Manfred any ideas…

Smiling Politely
2 months ago
Reply to  downbaddav

How does a guy with a physique like his move like Kyle Schwarber?

Pepper Martin
2 months ago

Giancarlo Stanton looks like a sculpture of a Greek God, and he physically can’t walk.

cartermember
2 months ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

ehhh. He jogs. He is under strict orders to jog. He got hurt the last time he tried to steal a base. He doesn’t try to run hard. My bet is he is still much faster than Soto in a sprint if his life depended on it

tung_twista
2 months ago
Reply to  downbaddav

MLB league average sprint speed is 27 ft/sec.
Soto just had 26.8 ft/sec in 2023.
Soto is certainly below average baserunner and defender, but he’s not some lumbering DH as some people make him out to be.
One thing that is true is that by virtue of getting on base more than anybody, Soto racks up more opportunity for his below average baserunning to matter compared to other players with similar speed.

Smiling Politely
2 months ago
Reply to  tung_twista

What is the avg sprint speed of an MLB’er with this age, size, etc.? It’s not that he’s an oval; it’s like finding out that Arnold Schwarzenegger punches less hard than I do.

The Ghost of Johnny Dickshot
2 months ago
Reply to  downbaddav

What is hilarious is Soto would kill pretty much 100% of FanGraphs commenters in any sort of baserunning drill, or even straight line running competitions.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon
2 months ago

Heck, I’d even beat a third of them!!

Cool Lester Smoothmember
2 months ago

That’s because we’d be too distracted by your beauty to run!

Last edited 2 months ago by Cool Lester Smooth
cartermember
2 months ago

Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?

Smiling Politely
2 months ago
Reply to  carter

any MLB’er would kill anyone nonMLB’er in any drill; I’m pretty sure I could run numbers for my dept faster than Juan Soto

Dmjn53
2 months ago
Reply to  downbaddav

I mean he’s 37th percentile sprint speed. He’s slow but he’s not THAT slow