When Might Aaron Judge Hit a Historic Home Run?

© Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge is doing something that most baseball fans, myself included, haven’t seen in their lifetime: He’s making a run at the American League home run record. Even if you don’t do some steroid-related asterisking of Barry Bonds et al., passing Babe Ruth and Roger Maris is a heck of an accomplishment; if you want to stick your fingers in your ears and ignore the late 1990s and early 2000s, it only makes Judge’s chase more consequential. Truly, this is an exciting time to follow baseball.

Normally, I’m the writer who pours cold water on everyone’s fun during chases like this. “Sure, he’s doing well now,” I’d say, “but if you look at his career numbers, he’s on pace to fall short.” Well for once, that’s not true! If you look at our Depth Charts projections, our median expectation for Judge gives him a 62-homer season.

That’s a boring and dry number, but in baseball statistics nerd land, it’s rare and exceptional. Projecting someone to break a record is obviously rare – records usually get broken by phenomenal performances, not by median outcomes. In celebration of that, I thought I’d layer on a bit more analytical rigor and give people an idea of not just if, but when Judge might hit home runs number 60, 61, or 62.

I wanted an easy-to-understand process, so I kept it simple. I took the Yankees’ remaining schedule, then noted each remaining team’s HR/9+ (from our suite of Plus Stats), the venue’s righty home run park factor (from Statcast’s new park factors), and whether I think Judge will play that day. I also used our projections to get what we consider to be Judge’s current true home-run-per-plate-appearance level (it’s 7.14%, for those of you keeping score at home).

With all these numbers in tow, I did the obvious thing: simulated Judge’s remaining schedule a million times. In each case, I ignored everything about the games other than whether Judge hit a home run (and of course, how many he hit). I assigned plate appearances somewhat randomly: he’s averaged 4.5 per game started this year, which I turned into a 54% chance of four, a 41% chance of five, and a 5% chance of six. To account for rest, I gave him one day completely off (to go with the Yankees’ four scheduled off days) and one day where he only pinch hits, limiting him to one plate appearance. I stuck them into the calendar on September 9 (pinch hitting day) and September 24 (off day), but there’s obviously plenty of variability around that.

By doing this and keeping a count of the home runs, I came up with a distribution of when Judge might hit his 60th, 61st, and 62nd home runs. Are these scientific? They are not. Are they neat? I sure think so. Let’s say, for example, that money and travel are no barrier and you badly want to see Judge’s 60th home run if it happens, but for some reason you can only attend one game. Which game should you go to?

Assuming all the assumptions I mentioned above are correct, the best chance of seeing Judge hit number 60 comes on September 26 in Toronto:

Aaron Judge 60th Home Run Odds
Day Opponent Home/Away Odds of Hitting 60th HR
9/7 Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/7 (DH) Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/8 Minnesota Home 0.1%
9/9 Tampa Bay Home 0.0%
9/10 Tampa Bay Home 0.3%
9/11 Tampa Bay Home 0.7%
9/13 Boston Away 1.3%
9/14 Boston Away 2.1%
9/16 Milwaukee Away 3.4%
9/17 Milwaukee Away 4.5%
9/18 Milwaukee Away 5.5%
9/20 Pittsburgh Home 5.4%
9/21 Pittsburgh Home 5.9%
9/22 Boston Home 6.5%
9/23 Boston Home 6.5%
9/24 Boston Home 0% (rest day)
9/25 Boston Home 6.6%
9/26 Toronto Away 6.9%
9/27 Toronto Away 6.5%
9/28 Toronto Away 5.9%
9/30 Baltimore Home 4.7%
10/1 Baltimore Home 4.2%
10/2 Baltimore Home 3.7%
10/3 Texas Away 2.7%
10/4 Texas Away 2.4%
10/4 (DH) Texas Away 2.1%
10/5 Texas Away 1.8%
DH = doubleheader

That’s not to say it’s your only chance, but it’s the best single game. That series and the previous one, in the Bronx against the Red Sox, are the two best shots to see Judge match Ruth’s total from 1927. If I’m wrong about when Judge gets a rest day – if the team would prefer to rest him on the road to increase the chances of hitting 60 at home, for instance – that moves the last Boston game into the lead.

How about homer number 61? If you want to see Judge tie Maris, you’re going to want to head to Toronto again:

Aaron Judge 61st Home Run Odds
Day Opponent Home/Away Odds of Hitting 61st HR
9/7 Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/7 (DH) Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/8 Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/9 Tampa Bay Home 0.0%
9/10 Tampa Bay Home 0.1%
9/11 Tampa Bay Home 0.2%
9/13 Boston Away 0.4%
9/14 Boston Away 0.8%
9/16 Milwaukee Away 1.5%
9/17 Milwaukee Away 2.3%
9/18 Milwaukee Away 3.2%
9/20 Pittsburgh Home 3.5%
9/21 Pittsburgh Home 4.1%
9/22 Boston Home 5.0%
9/23 Boston Home 5.5%
9/24 Boston Home 0% (rest day)
9/25 Boston Home 5.7%
9/26 Toronto Away 6.6%
9/27 Toronto Away 6.7%
9/28 Toronto Away 6.5%
9/30 Baltimore Home 5.6%
10/1 Baltimore Home 5.2%
10/2 Baltimore Home 4.9%
10/3 Texas Away 3.7%
10/4 Texas Away 3.3%
10/4 (DH) Texas Away 3.1%
10/5 Texas Away 2.8%
DH = doubleheader

And number 62? You guessed it: You’re due for another visit to our neighbors to the north:

Aaron Judge 62nd Home Run Odds
Day Opponent Home/Away Odds of Hitting 62nd HR
9/7 Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/7 (DH) Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/8 Minnesota Home 0.0%
9/9 Tampa Bay Home 0.0%
9/10 Tampa Bay Home 0.0%
9/11 Tampa Bay Home 0.0%
9/13 Boston Away 0.1%
9/14 Boston Away 0.2%
9/16 Milwaukee Away 0.5%
9/17 Milwaukee Away 1.0%
9/18 Milwaukee Away 1.5%
9/20 Pittsburgh Home 1.9%
9/21 Pittsburgh Home 2.5%
9/22 Boston Home 3.2%
9/23 Boston Home 3.8%
9/24 Boston Home 0% (rest day)
9/25 Boston Home 5.7%
9/26 Toronto Away 5.5%
9/27 Toronto Away 5.4%
9/28 Toronto Away 5.8%
9/30 Baltimore Home 5.6%
10/1 Baltimore Home 5.5%
10/2 Baltimore Home 5.4%
10/3 Texas Away 4.2%
10/4 Texas Away 4.0%
10/4 (DH) Texas Away 3.8%
10/5 Texas Away 3.6%
DH = doubleheader

It seemed strange to me that the last series of the season didn’t do better in these simulations, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Judge reaches 62 homers in 68% of my simulations thanks to a combination of me giving him slightly more plate appearances than the Depth Charts and my knowledge of the parks and opponents he’ll face. Some of the time, that means he’ll blow through 62, reaching 65, say, or 66. In those instances, he’ll pass 62 on the earlier side.

Conversely, he doesn’t get there at all fairly often – basically a third of the time. That means that there just aren’t many scenarios where he both starts slow – so that he doesn’t hit 60 through 62 before the last weekend of the season – and finishes at or above 62. Sure, Judge hits his 62nd homer in his last plate appearance of the year in some simulations, but those are hardly the majority. If you think about the probability distribution of times where Judge reaches at least 62 homers, it makes a little more sense that it’s concentrated before year’s end. The best way to reach 62 is to get off to a blistering next few weeks – but that itself makes it less likely the record will still be intact in October.

A few odds and ends: there’s a roughly 50% chance, in these simulations, that he’ll hit home run number 60 at home. There’s a 49% chance that he’ll hit number 61 there, and a 47% chance that he’ll hit number 62 there (all of these are contingent on him actually reaching that milestone). If Judge hits any of these historic numbers, there’s a coin flip’s chance that he’ll do it in front of an adoring home crowd.

There’s an amusing dip between the last game of the Minnesota series and the first game of the Tampa Bay series. That isn’t because Tampa Bay’s pitching is really good — it’s because I gave Judge most of the day off in that first game of the Rays series. It’s still not going to happen – 500 out of a million simulations had Judge going on an extreme home run binge in the next three days – but it looks strange in the table, so I thought I should explain it. In a different vein, the combination of Globe Life Field and a surprisingly decent Texas pitching staff – at least when it comes to home run prevention – means that if Judge isn’t at 62 before the last weekend of the season, he’ll have his work cut out for him.

The concise summation of all of this: the best series to go to, if you want to see history in person, is September 26-28 in Toronto. After that, it’s the two home series that bookend that one: four against Boston from September 22-25, and three against Baltimore September 29 through October 1. And hey, as a bonus, Mike Petriello has even worked out where you should sit to catch a prospective record-breaking ball. Happy history hunting!

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Thomas Bertonmember
2 months ago

Good thing Judge got vaccinated.

2 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Berton