Can 'Optimal Polar Bear' match Judge's 62?

With fences moving in at Citi Field, could Pete Alonso match Yankees slugger's '22 season?

February 21st, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since broke into the Majors in 2019, no one has hit more home runs than he has. His total of 146 is nine higher than that of Aaron Judge, who last year became the fourth player in MLB history to club at least 62 in a season. Alonso’s maximum exit velocity, an excellent measure of raw power, has been in the top 2% of MLB every year. He is one of only four players ever to win the Home Run Derby more than once.

All of which raises the question: If Judge can hit 62, might Alonso be able to, too?

“I would say there’s definitely not many guys in the league who could do that,” said teammate Jeff McNeil. “Judge is one. I think Pete could do it.”

Even the league’s most potent power hitters tend to say that they don’t specifically try to hit home runs; they simply attempt to barrel up balls and let their elite musculature do the rest. And there is at least some level of luck involved in hitting, say, 50 homers rather than 40, or 60 rather than 50. Before bashing 62, Judge had never hit more than 52 in a season -- a total that Alonso topped as a rookie. In his only other full season before last year, Judge hit 39.

Many factors go into hitting a home run, including ballpark dimensions, weather conditions and more -- what Mets hitting coach Jeremy Barnes calls the “infinite variables” of the craft. A single degree of launch angle can make the difference between a homer and an out. Some of the hardest-hit balls every year fall for singles and doubles.

For counting stats, health is also key. Chasing a number as hallowed as 62, a player cannot afford to miss chunks of games, as Judge often did early in his career. Last year, Judge stayed healthy enough to appear in a career-high 157 games, which is a number Alonso has eclipsed twice in his first three full big league seasons. As one of baseball’s sturdiest players, Alonso gives himself more of a chance to accomplish special things.

Finally, there’s the matter of Alonso playing his home games in a less power-friendly ballpark than Judge, who hit 30 of his 62 homers at Yankee Stadium. The Mets are in the process of moving the right-center-field fence at Citi Field in approximately eight feet; if that results in one or two extra homers for Alonso, who frequently powers the ball to the opposite field, the idea of increasing his homer total could become more realistic.

“Does Pete have the ability to do that kind of stuff? Absolutely,” Barnes said. “Pete’s one of the best hitters in the game. Pete’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s a combination of all of it: Can we stay in the zone a little bit more? Can we get our ‘A’ swing off just a little bit more?

“We look at the things we can control -- exit velocities, launch angles, our swings, swing decisions, these kinds of things -- and we’re just trying to maximize that. Ballparks you’re playing in, is the wind blowing in that day -- all these things that are outside our control, that may be the difference between 45 and 50, or 50 to 55.”

Neither Barnes nor Alonso has set 60-plus as a goal, though both would be thrilled if he could somehow reach it. When Judge hit 62 last season, Alonso took notice as a New York player who has been linked to Judge since chasing his rookie record in 2019. (When Alonso tied that record, Judge offered to take him out to dinner.) Alonso was even rooting for Judge to make a run at the Triple Crown, which he considers one of the ultimate accomplishments for a hitter.

The two forged a closer relationship during the pandemic in 2020, when they sometimes hit together in Tampa and shared mechanical notes. In many ways, Alonso has closely followed the career arc of Judge, who’s two years his senior. Hitting 62 would be another step on that path.

“That would be awesome to do that,” Alonso said. “But I just want to play my game, take what the game gives me. You’re just hoping for a few extra to fall over the other side of the fence.”

Added Barnes: “When you have guys of this caliber talent, the smallest little changes can impact things on both ends. It’s just a matter of keeping [him] optimal Polar Bear Pete."