Aaron Judge enters Triple Crown race with torrid start to September; can Yankees star pull it off?
By any measure, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is enjoying a historic 2022 season. He is making a serious run at Roger Maris' American League single-season record of 61 homers, and thanks to a torrid hot streak in early September (he's hitting .514/.596/1.081 in his last 10 games), Judge has now inserted himself into the batting title race. The prodigious power and lofty average give Judge a shot at the Triple Crown.
Over in the National League, Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is making his own run at the Triple Crown, and only once in history has there been a Triple Crown winner in both leagues in the same season: Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx (Athletics) and Chuck Klein (Phillies) did it in 1933. Judge and Goldschmidt have a chance, albeit a small one, to do it this year.
Here's what you need to know about Judge's Triple Crown chase as the regular season winds down.
There has only been one Triple Crown winner in the last half-century and each of the last six Triple Crown winners have come from the American League. You have to go all the way back to Joe Medwick with the 1937 Cardinals for the last NL Triple Crown. Here are those last six AL Triple Crowns:
As a massive human (listed at 6-feet-7 and 282 pounds) who hits a lot of home runs, Judge is often stereotyped as a lumbering all-or-nothing slugger. That is not the case. He is a gifted natural hitter who hit .287 last season and entered 2022 with a career .276 batting average in nearly 2,500 plate appearances. Despite his enormous strike zone, Judge hits for a solid average.
Players must have 3.1 plate appearances per team game to qualify for the batting title (that's 502 plate appearances for the full 162-game season). Here is the AL batting race as of Sept. 14:
If that average looks low for a potential batting champ, it is. Last season Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel won the AL batting crown with a .319 average. It was the lowest average for a batting champ in either league since Justin Morneau won the NL title with a .319 average for the Rockies in 2014. The last AL batting champ with an average that low was Rod Carew with the 1972 Twins (.318).
Batting average has gradually declined in recent years, prompting MLB to limit defensive shifts beginning in 2023.
They say you can't predict baseball, but I can safely predict Judge will win the home run title this season. Not just in the AL either. In all of baseball. He holds a commanding lead. Here's the AL home run leaderboard as of Sept. 14 (no plate appearance minimum to qualify):
The last player to lead baseball in home runs by as many as 14 was Jimmie Foxx in 1933. He hit 48 homers that season and Babe Ruth was a distant second with 34. Judge has a chance to do that (and then some) this year. He's going to win the home run title. The only question is by how much.
Judge also won the home run title with 52 as a rookie in 2017. The only active players with multiple home run titles are Cabrera (2008 AL and 2012 AL), Nolan Arenado (2015 NL, 2016 NL, 2018 NL), Albert Pujols (2009 NL and 2010 NL), and Giancarlo Stanton (2014 NL and 2017 NL).
Judge is so much more than a home run hitter. He entered September with an incredible .363/.504/.780 batting line with runners in scoring position, so he can give you that single to the opposite field when that's all you need. Not everything goes over the wall. That said, homers drive up RBI totals. Here is the AL RBI leaderboard as of Sept. 14 (no plate appearance minimum to qualify):
Judge has a chance to become baseball's first 130 RBI man since JD Martinez had 132 with the 2018 Red Sox. He could become the first to reach 140 RBI since Prince Fielder (Brewers) and Ryan Howard (Phillies) both had 141 in 2009. No AL player has had 140 RBI in a season since Alex Rodriguez had 156 with the 2007 Yankees.
Ramírez is lurking in the RBI race, though Judge has a comfortable lead at the moment, and the home run title is in the bag. The Triple Crown chase will come down to whether Judge can reel in the batting title as well. That's the only category where significant work must still be done.