The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Why Aaron Judge's 61 home run achievement was more impressive than Roger Maris's

Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’s American League record of 61 home runs on September 28, 61 one years after Maris. Judge hit his 61st at Rogers Centre in Toronto. Maris wore jersey number 9, while Judge wears 99. Maris won the American League MVP Award in 1961. Judge is a good bet to win it this year. But that might be where the parallels end. When you look behind the details of the home run totals, an argument can be made that Judge’s is more impressive.

Judge’s accomplishment comes in an era in baseball that is quite different from that of Maris. As a result, I believe Judge’s quest to hit 61 home runs has been more extraordinary.

Below is my rationale. My analysis is not meant to diminish Maris’s feat, but to highlight Judge’s impressive season.

Maris got his 61st home run on the last day of the season in his 161st game of the season. Judge hit his 61st in 10 less games.

Judge routinely faces pitchers who throw harder than pitchers did in Maris’s time. For the past 8-10 years, pitching strategies have emphasized pitchers who can regularly hit 97-mph or greater with their fastball. In 2021, 335 pitchers fell into that category, with more this year. It’s common to see 100-mph pitches in practically every game. Maris didn’t routinely face pitches of that caliber.

Starting pitchers typically stayed in the game longer when Maris played. Consequently, batters had better chances of hitting homers in later innings, after having seen the pitcher’s repertoire three or four plate appearances. It’s common for Judge to see three different pitchers in a game, so he has to adjust to a different pitching style for each plate appearance.

Batting third in the Yankees lineup, Maris had Mickey Mantle hitting behind him in the batting order. For most of the 1961 season, Mantle was in the race for 61 homers as well, until he got injured in September. So, pitchers couldn’t pitch around Maris because Mantle was just as dangerous at the plate. Judge has been batting leadoff for a good part of the second half of the season. He’s had a variety of teammates hitting behind him, but none as threatening as Mantle.

Related to the above, Maris was never intentionally walked during the 1961 season. Judge has been issued free passes to first base on 19 occasions. If you use his ratio of plate appearances to home runs (one home run for every 11 plate appearances) he could theoretically have one or two additional home runs this season.

At 6-feet-seven, Judge has a larger strike zone than the 6-foot Maris. He is particularly vulnerable to low pitches in the strike zone, although he has proven to be a patient hitter this year by leading the AL in walks.

Left-handed batter Maris was a dead-pull hitter to right field. He took advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch, at 318 feet, for many of his home runs. Right-handed hitting Judge has sprayed his homers to all fields, including 40.7% to left field, 27% to center field, and 32.3% to right field.

It is well-documented Maris felt the pressure of chasing Ruth. His hair fell out. He received death threats from people who didn’t want to see Ruth’s record broken. Judge has been calm, cool, and collected at the plate during his run at Maris’s magic number. If he’s suffered from any type of anxiety attack during his chase of Maris, he’s hidden it very adeptly.

Maris’s OPS+ in 1961 was 167, exceptional when compared to an average major-league player’s 100 OPS+. Judge will end the season with an OPS+ around 215. We’re seeing history being made by him, not just for the home runs, but as an all-around offensive juggernaut. He is leading the American League in practically every statistical category, and still has a reasonable chance to capture the Triple Crown.

In route to tying Maris, Judge has had one of the most productive offensive seasons in major-league history. But even if he surpasses Maris, No. 9 will always hold his own place in history as the slugger who passed the great Bambino.

2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. J Malatesta | October 03, 2022 at 09:33 AM EDT

Richard, I really enjoyed your analysis. I have been intrigued by Judge since he came in the league. Best to Mary and your siblings. Johnny

2. Richard | October 24, 2022 at 08:12 PM EDT

Johnny, thanks for the note, albeit my response is kinda late. Judge and the Yankees were very disappointing in the ALCS. I sure hope the Yanks make him a good offer he'll accept. Would hate for the face of the franchise to be playing for someone else next year.

Take care. Richard

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