Aaron Judge in 2023: Even better than in '22?

June 4th, 2023

Aaron Judge produced one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history last year. Not only did he set an American League record by smashing 62 home runs, he also became only the eighth player in MLB history to produce an OPS+ of 210 or greater in a season of 600 or more plate appearances.

Before Judge’s prodigious 2022 campaign, only Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds had ever accomplished that. 

Given how rare of a season it was, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that Judge, even with more incredible seasons in the future, might never replicate what he did in 2022. But given what he’s done so far in ’23, it’s become reasonable to ask: Can he do it again? Or, dare we contemplate … an even better season?

Here’s a look at why Judge, who was named American League Player of the Month for May and has been red-hot since returning from a hip injury, could, amazingly, outdo himself yet again:

He’s shown he’s just as dangerous at the plate as ever

There was only one span of 16 games last season in which Judge hit more home runs while producing a higher OPS than his output from May 13-31 (12 homers, 1.588 OPS). That was from July 14-Aug. 1, 2022, when he launched 13 homers with a 1.612 OPS.

This demonstrates that Judge remains essentially the same hitter as he was in his record-breaking season -- one could argue he's been even better given his quality of contact and expected statistics; more on those below.

Many star sluggers of the past had career years before regressing to merely “great” seasons the rest of the way. Take the Yankees legend whose AL single-season home run record Judge eclipsed last season, Roger Maris. Maris had the exact same number of at-bats the year after he belted 61 homers to break Babe Ruth’s mark in 1961 (590), but he hit “only” 33 homers with an OPS more than 150 points lower.

With his unbelievable two-plus weeks at the plate after returning from a hip injury, Judge is proving he remains as dangerous as ever, even after one of the all-time great single-season performances in the game’s storied history.

Through 49 games, his numbers are nearly identical to last year’s

Despite getting off to a slow start -- slow by Judge’s lofty standards, anyway -- the superstar slugger is basically right where he was through the same number of games played last season. He's even a shade better.

Judge was hitting .255/.349/.481 with six homers through May 12, but with his slugging binge since then, he now has 19 homers on the season to go along with a 1.078 OPS. Yes, he missed 10 games due to the hip issue, but through the same number of games played last season, he had 19 homers and a 1.034 OPS.

So, won’t the 10 missed games be a problem in Judge's quest for a season that tops his 2022? They certainly could. He's actually played in nine fewer games than he did by the Yankees' 60th game of 2022 -- the club played in its 60th game of this season Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

But consider that Judge only had one home run through his first 13 games last year -- from then on, he homered once every 8.6 at-bats and posted a 1.143 OPS.

If Judge were to homer every 8.6 at-bats with a 1.143 OPS the rest of this season, assuming the same average number of at-bats per game as 2022, and accounting for the occasional off-day (we’ll give him four, the same number as in 2022), he’d finish with … 60 homers and an OPS a touch over 1.100. He hit 62 homers with a 1.111 OPS last season.

Could the margin of error in our rough calculations here be +/- three homers? If so, don’t dismiss the case for a 63-plus-homer season for Judge in 2023, especially given how hard he’s hitting the baseball.

His quality of contact is even better than it was in 2022

While it may not have seemed possible entering 2023, Judge is actually hitting the ball harder more consistently than he did in ’22.

Entering play Saturday, Judge’s hard-hit rate was up (62.8% to 61.8% last year), as was his barrel rate (30.1% to 26.5%), average exit velocity (97.1% to 95.9%), expected slugging percentage (.756 to .706) and expected weighted on-base average (.474 to .463).

Will Judge's 2023 surpass his '22? The jury's still out

Sometimes, getting locked in at the plate is remarkably simple. It seems that was the case for Judge when he flipped the switch last month.

“I’m just getting ready to hit,” Judge told reporters after belting two homers to begin his torrid run at the plate on May 13. “[Instead of] thinking too much about trying to get your pitch. Just get ready to drive the baseball and keep it simple. … When it comes down to it, you’ve got to be ready to hit and not miss your pitch.”

He hasn’t been missing his pitch lately, and the Yankees have been surging since he’s returned -- without him, New York went 4-6. Since then, the Bronx Bombers, with their biggest bomber back in the lineup, have won 15 of 22. And when Judge has homered, the Yankees are 18-1.

Will Judge author an encore performance after a history-making 2022?

Don’t rule it out.

MLB.com Yankees reporter Bryan Hoch contributed to this story.