The elusive and unheralded milestone Aaron Judge is chasing

June 14th, 2024

With every major baseball stat, there's a number that represents a soft "ceiling" of sorts, a total that causes us to raise our eyebrows because it doesn't occur often in the modern game. Think 50 homers for a hitter or 300 strikeouts for a pitcher.

Tucked away amid such traditionally celebrated seasonal accomplishments is a milestone that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves – even though it's one of the rarest offensive feats in baseball: 400 total bases.

When we talk about flashy stats, total bases rarely get much love. But it's a figure that can tell us quite a bit about a player's overall offensive value.

Perhaps Aaron Judge is the player who can make 400 total bases a more celebrated number. The current Major League leader (174) has been on pace to get there lately, thanks to a red-hot stretch, although a rare hitless game on Thursday against the Royals dropped his pace to 397. The Yankees slugger already has experience with successful single-season milestone pursuits, having set an American League record with 62 home runs in 2022. That same year, Judge collected 391 total bases, which speaks to the grand challenge of the 400 mark.

Consider: There have been the same number of players with 60-homer seasons since 1960 (eight) as there have been players to collect 400 total bases. In all of Major League history, it's happened just 29 times.

Top 10 total bases in a season, all time

  1. Babe Ruth: 457 (1921 Yankees)
  2. Rogers Hornsby: 450 (1922 Cardinals)
  3. Lou Gehrig: 447 (1927 Yankees)
  4. Chuck Klein: 445 (1930 Phillies)
  5. Jimmie Foxx: 438 (1932 A’s)
  6. Stan Musial: 429 (1948 Cardinals)
  7. Sammy Sosa: 425 (2001 Cubs)
  8. Hack Wilson: 423 (1930 Cubs)
  9. Chuck Klein: 420 (1932 Phillies)
  10. Lou Gehrig: 419 (1930 Yankees)

So what makes 400 total bases such a meaningful threshold, and what will be required for someone like Judge – or another of MLB’s top sluggers – to reach it? Here’s a closer look.

The basics

Before we go further, a reminder of what total bases encompasses: It's the total number of bases accumulated via hits. A batter gets one base for a single, two for a double, three for a triple and four for a homer. So, it's a simple calculation: singles + 2x doubles + 3x triples + 4x home runs.

Basically, the better the hitter, the more total bases. A player with a high number of total bases generally hits for average and power, combining strong bat-to-ball skills with the ability to slug. Just as a .300 average is still considered a good hitting season, 300 or more total bases also generally signifies a good year. Get to 350 or more, and that's a great year. But 400? That's next-level stuff.

While four players reached 400 in 2001, it hasn’t happened outside the offense-rich PED era in almost 50 years. (Offensive environment obviously comes into play here. In full seasons in the 30-team era, there is a gap of more than 9,000 total bases MLB-wide, or more than 300 per team, between the most and least total bases recorded.)

Seasons of 400+ TB, since integration (1947)

2001: Barry Bonds, Giants (411)
2001: Luis Gonzalez, D-backs (419)
2001: Todd Helton, Rockies (402)
2001: Sammy Sosa, Cubs (425)
2000: Todd Helton, Rockies (405)
1998: Sammy Sosa, Cubs (416)
1997: Larry Walker, Rockies (409)
1978: Jim Rice, Red Sox (406)
1959: Hank Aaron, Braves (400)
1948: Stan Musial, Cardinals (429)

A few players have come relatively close in recent years.

In 2022, Judge made it to 391 total bases when he blasted 62 homers. In 2017, Charlie Blackmon had 387 for the Rockies. Last season, Ronald Acuña Jr. had 383 for the Braves during his historic 40-70 campaign. But apart from those examples, nobody has truly threatened the 400 mark since Albert Pujols had 394 total bases in 2003.

Total bases leaders over past 10 full, 162-game seasons:

2013: 370 (Chris Davis, Orioles)
2014: 338 (Mike Trout, Angels)
2015: 354 (Joey Votto, Reds)
2016: 359 (Mookie Betts, Red Sox)
2017: 387 (Charlie Blackmon, Rockies)
2018: 358 (J.D. Martinez, Red Sox)
2019: 359 (Rafael Devers, Red Sox)
2021: 363 (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays)
2022: 391 (Aaron Judge, Yankees)
2023: 383 (Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves)

Leader average: 366 total bases

What it takes to reach 400 total bases

1. Good health. This is an obvious point, but like with any counting stat, no player is going to rack up a ton of total bases while being sidelined for any significant length of time. Every previous player to reach 400 played at least 149 games in that season. When Rice did it in 1978, he notched No. 400 in his 160th game.

Judge’s chances: This could be Judge’s biggest challenge. Though he played in 157 games in that historic 2022 season, he’s played in 149 or more just one other time (155 in 2017). Last season, a toe injury and other ailments limited him to just 106. He’s played in all but one of the Yankees’ games so far in 2024.

2. Lots and lots of hits. No hitter has ever reached 400 total bases in a season with a batting average below .308. And outside of Bonds’ outlier 2001 season – in which he set the single-season home run record (73) – every season of 400 total bases has featured at least 189 total hits. All but six have featured more than 200 knocks.

Judge’s chances: The biggest thing in Judge’s favor here is that he’s becoming a more complete hitter. His hit total has grown every time he’s played anywhere close to a full season. The 177 hits he had in 2022, a season in which he played 157 games, were easily the most of his career, besting the 158 hits in 148 games he had in 2021. When he’s been able to maintain a steady groove over a full season, with limited interruptions, the hits have come. But it might take a new career high for him to reach 400 total bases.

3. Land lots of extra-base hits. Historically speaking, a player’s hits need to go for extra bases about 40 percent of the time or more. But even then, there are no guarantees, because the slugging breakdown will require nuance.

Consider Rice's 1978 season, in which he hit .315. He had 213 hits, of which 86 — or 40 percent — went for extra bases. The breakdown: 46 homers, 15 triples, 25 doubles and 127 singles. The homers obviously did a lot of the heavy lifting, but Rice doesn't reach the 400 total bases threshold without those 15 triples or the high number of singles.

Then there's Helton's 2001 season. He hit just two triples but had 49 homers, 54 doubles and 92 singles. In 1937, Joe Medwick hit just 31 homers, but had 56 doubles, 10 triples and 140 singles.

In other words, there's no one way to get there. But a strong mix of hit types is essential, and at least two of the extra-base categories need to be substantial.

Judge’s chances: This is where he fell short in 2022, because although he had a substantial homer total, his other extra-base hit totals were ordinary (28 doubles, no triples). This year, though? He already has a triple and 21 doubles, putting him on pace for 50. Judge has a shot to join Albert Belle (1995) as the only players with a 50-homer, 50-double season, and it’s the latter number that might hold the key to his chances to reach 400 total bases.

Judge's hard contact is a powerful fuel

Judge came closer to 400 total bases than anyone has in a while in 2022, and he was actually on pace to get there for a long time. But even a mild cooldown can be enough to wreck the pursuit of 400, and Judge ultimately fell short in large part because of his performance in August, a month in which he had just 11 extra-base hits and 26 total hits.

But Judge is at it again in 2024, hitting for average and power, in large part because he continues to hit the ball really hard. His average exit velocity is 96.8 mph, which is even higher than it was in 2022 (95.9 mph), and is in the top 1 percent in baseball. So naturally, his hard-hit percentage of 62.7 is also among the best in the game.

Judge has also cut down on strikeouts in recent seasons compared with earlier in his career. His 24.7 percent strikeout rate would be the lowest of his career, and his 31.5 percent whiff rate is also among his lowest ever.

That increase in contact has led to more hits. Since 2021, when he hit a then-career-high .287, Judge has seen his batting average rise when he’s played a full, healthy season. He hit .311 in 2022 and finished second in the AL batting race (five percentage points from a Triple Crown). After a significant dip during his injury-shortened 2023 season (.267), he’s back above .300 again in 2024 – which would be a significant contributor to his quest for 400 total bases.

So who else has a chance to get there?

Given what it usually takes to reach 400 total bases, the number of active players who could potentially get there at some point is small. But here are four non-Judge candidates.

Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers

Ohtani was on pace to reach 400 total bases last season, when he won his second MVP award, but fell off late when injuries kept him out of the lineup and limited him to just 135 games. He didn't play at all after Sept. 3 and finished with an AL-leading 325 total bases.

But Ohtani’s ever-impressive ability to sting the ball all over the field for a strong distribution of hit types is reason enough to expect that he’ll flirt with the 400 total again. He’s averaged 41 homers, 27 doubles, seven triples and 74 singles over the past three seasons, so the ingredients are certainly there, provided he stays healthy.

Bobby Witt Jr., Royals

Witt has established himself as an extra-base machine. Last season, for example, they accounted for 39 percent of his hit total – right around the threshold to have a real shot at 400 total bases.

But it’s not just that. Witt has become a more complete hitter each year. His average has climbed steadily, as have his power numbers. And his elite speed allows him to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples (see his MLB-leading 11 triples last season), boosting that total bases number along the way.

It’s a perfect recipe to chase 400.

Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves

When healthy, Acuña is perhaps the most dynamic player in baseball. His combination of power and speed makes for excellent slugging numbers, and a lot of hits. But staying healthy has been a challenge.

Aside from the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Acuña has averaged just 113 games per season. But he’s also shown that anything close to a full, healthy season usually leads to MVP-level production.

During Acuña’s 40-70 season in 2023, there was talk of him potentially chasing 50-50. Much like with Ohtani, it would seem unwise to limit the ceiling of a healthy Acuña. Had he reached 50 homers last year, his total bases would’ve been 419.

Gunnar Henderson, Orioles

Henderson’s power-speed combo is an under-discussed part of his game. He’s shown that he has plenty of home run pop, but he’s also displayed an ability to leg out extra bases – and this holds the potential for the type of hit diversity needed to reach 400 total bases.

His nine triples in 2023 were tied for third most in baseball, and he’s well on his way to reaching or passing that total this season.

Though he’ll need to hit for a higher average than he’s shown so far (.261 career), his overall 2024 on-pace numbers are high enough to keep in the 400 total bases conversation.

Should Judge or any of these guys make a real run at 400 this season, it would probably go mostly unnoticed or at least unheralded among the majority of fans. There's nothing historically romantic about total bases, after all. But, given the rarity, it would be a mighty impressive accomplishment and worthy of as much attention and praise as any of baseball's other celebrated chases.