In 2016, 38 MLB players hit 30 home runs or more. In 2015, only 20 players hit that mark. This year, New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge was there before most people had cleared their driveways of old fireworks.
Heading into the All-Star break, the monstrous 6-foot-7 rookie is hitting .329/.448/.691 with 30 home runs, 66 RBI and 75 runs scored. He leads the league in homers, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases and (probably) pitchers terrified.
Unsurprisingly, the most recent odds have him as the favorite to win AL MVP:
Should Judge go on to capture MVP, he would become just the third player in MLB history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Fred Lynn did it in 1975, and Ichiro followed suit for the Seattle Mariners during their 116-win campaign in 2001.
The more intriguing storyline may be a run at the Triple Crown, which was last accomplished by Miguel Cabrera in 2012 but hadn’t be done for 45 years prior to that.
Home runs will be his “easiest” category. He only leads George Springer by three, but his absurd strength makes him the clear favorite to pace the leaders all year. He leads the MLB in average exit velocity and has crushed the longest home run of the year, a near-500-foot moonshot:
Judge should also be right in the mix for the RBI crown. While he trails Nelson Cruz by four, the Yankees are second in the AL in both on-base percentage and runs per game, so he’ll continue to see opportunities all year, whether he’s batting second or third.
Batting average is where things will get tricky.
Not only is Judge 20 points behind Jean Segura and 18 behind Jose Altuve–the former led the NL in hits last year while the latter has a pair of AL batting titles already–but he strikes out a little too much to keep that average high enough for a batting crown. Judge’s strikeout percentage sits at a whopping 29.8. Since 2000, the absolute worst strikeout percentage for an AL batting champion was Josh Hamilton at 16.6, which equates to a difference of about 79 strikeouts per 600 plate appearances. Most champs, though, have hovered around 10–a difference of a 119 strikeouts in an average season.
When you’re making that much less contact, you’re going to need a huge BAbip (batting average on balls in play) to make up for it, and it’s hard to imagine Judge’s .426 BAbip staying that high for the entire season.
In June, Bovada put Judge’s odds at winning the batting crown at 10-to-1, and the triple crown at 33-to-1.
Still, the fact that we’re even discussing these things is a testament to how good the 25-year-old has been this season. If his second half is even a fraction as dominant as the first, he’s going to have a lot of accolades and awards headed his way.