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Aaron Judge Had the Greatest Rookie Season Ever

Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.

Aaron Judge's numbers in 2017 ranked him among the elite of all time.

Aaron Judge's numbers in 2017 ranked him among the elite of all time.

In 2017, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees had the greatest rookie season of all time, but more than that, it ranks as one of the 20 best overall seasons of all time.

Most notably, Judge broke the rookie home run record with 52 bombs, three more than Mark McGwire hit in his inaugural season in 1987. Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers also set the National League record for homers that year with 39, the third-highest of all time by any rookie.

Aaron Judge's 2017 Stats

GABRHHRRBISBBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS

155

542

128

154

52

114

9

127

208

.284

.422

.627

1.049

More Than Just Homers

In addition, Judge set the rookie record for walks in a season with 127. That topped the previous mark of 107 by Ted Williams in 1939 and was the first time a rookie walked more than 100 times in a season since 1953.

Judge’s 128 runs scored was the sixth-highest total for a rookie and fourth-highest for an American League player. The only rookie to score more runs in a season since 1959 was Mike Trout, who scored 129 times in 2012.

Judge’s 114 RBIs ranked 15th among rookie seasons, well off the mark of 145 set by Williams in 1939. But it was the highest by an AL rookie since McGwire had 118 in 1987. Since 1950, only Albert Pujols (130 in 2001), McGwire, Jose Canseco (117 in 1986) and Alvin Davis (116 in 1984) had more in their rookie seasons.

Number Not Seen for Decades

Judge’s combination of runs and RBIs was only the 11th time a rookie has topped 100 in both categories, and only the fourth time since 1950. The others were Pujols (112-130, 2001), Carlos Beltran (112-108, 1999) and Fred Lynn (103-105, 1975).

Rookies with 100+ runs and RBIs

PlayerTeamYearRRBI

Dale Alexander

Det

1929

110

137

Hal Trosky

Cle

1934

117

142

Joe DiMaggio

NYY

1936

132

125

Ted Williams

Bos

1939

131

145

Al Rosen

Cle

1950

100

116

Walt Dropo

Bos

1950

101

144

Fred Lynn

Bos

1975

103

105

Carlos Beltran

KC

1999

112

108

Albert Pujols

StL

2001

112

130

Aaron Judge

NYY

2017

128

114

When you add his walk totals to his runs and RBIs, Judge reached even more elite company. Only two other rookies ever topped 100 in all three categories—Williams in 1939 (131 runs, 145 RBIs, 107 walks) and Al Rosen in 1950 (100, 116, 100).

Rookies with 100+ Runs, RBIs and BB

PlayerTeamYearRRBIBB

Ted Williams

Bos

1939

131

145

107

Al Rosen

Cle

1950

100

116

100

Aaron Judge

NYY

2017

128

114

127

Comparisons to Great Ones

He also bashed 79 extra-base hits, 12th best by any rookie and only 10 behind the all-time record of 89 set by Hal Trosky in 1934.

His .422 on base percentage was sixth-best for any rookie, and the highest by any rookie since Williams in 1939. His .627 slugging percentage was second-best ever, behind only Rudy York’s .651 in 1937. His OPS of 1.049 was second-highest, behind only Shoeless Joe Jackson’s 1.058 in 1911. Pujols is the only other rookie since 1939 to top 1.000 OPS, with 1.013 in 2001.

Top Rookie On Base Percentage

PlayerTeamYearOBP

Joe Jackson

Cle

1911

.468

Harry Rice

StL (A)

1925

.450

Fred Snodgrass

NYG

1910

.440

Ted Williams

Bos

1939

.436

Cuckoo Christensen

Cin

1926

.426

Aaron Judge

NYY

2017

.422

Top Rookie Slugging Percentage

PlayerTeamYearSlg Pct

Rudy York

Det

1937

.651

Aaron Judge

NYY

2017

.627

Top Rookie OPS

PlayerTeamYearOPS

Joe Jackson

Cle

1911

1.058

Aaron Judge

NYY

2017

1.049

One Dubious Distinction

Of course, Judge also set a dubious rookie record with 208 strikeouts, the first rookie to ever do so, and only the 10th player overall to fan that many times. But even in that mark, there was a silver lining. His .284 batting average was by far the highest of any player with more than 200 K’s. Next highest was Chris Davis at .262.

His .422 on base percentage also far exceeded anyone else in that strikeout category. Davis, again, has the second-highest at .361.

One the All-Time Great Seasons

So it is clear that in 2017 Judge had the greatest rookie season ever. But what about any season ever?

A season with 128-plus runs and 114-plus RBIs has only occurred 97 times in history, but 69 of those happened before 1970, meaning that in the past 50 years it’s occurred only 28 times. Of those, 17 were in the big offensive number years of 1996–2001. Since 2001, Judge’s was the seventh such season—and three of those were by Pujols.

If you add in the 127 walks instead of the homers, a season of 128-plus runs, 114-plus RBIs and 127-plus walks has occurred just 19 times. Of the other 18, half of them belonged to Babe Ruth, four others to Ted Williams and two to Lou Gehrig. Since 1950, only Mark McGwire in 1998 (130 runs, 147 RBIs, 162 walks), Jeff Bagwell in 1999 (143, 126, 149) and Barry Bonds in 2001 (129, 137, 177) made that list before Judge.

Or, if you add the 52 homers to the runs and RBIs, you find that there were only 18 seasons of 52-plus homers, 128-plus runs and 114-plus RBIs, only eight since 1961. Since 2001, the only other such season was in 2007 when Alex Rodriguez had 54 homers, 143 runs and 156 RBIs.

Players with 128+ Runs, 114+ RBIs, 127+ BB

PlayerTeamYearRRBIBB

Babe Ruth

NYY

1920

158

135

150

Babe Ruth

NYY

1921

177

168

145

Babe Ruth

NYY

1923

151

130

170

Babe Ruth

NYY

1924

143

124

142

Babe Ruth

NYY

1926

139

153

144

Babe Ruth

NYY

1927

158

165

137

Babe Ruth

NYY

1928

163

146

137

Babe Ruth

NYY

1930

150

153

136

Babe Ruth

NYY

1931

149

162

128

Lou Gehrig

NYY

1936

167

152

130

Lou Gehrig

NYY

1937

138

158

127

Ted Williams

Bos

1941

135

120

147

Ted Williams

Bos

1942

141

137

145

Ted Williams

Bos

1946

142

123

156

Ted Williams

Bos

1949

150

159

162

Mark McGwire

StL

1998

130

147

162

Jeff Bagwell

Hou

1999

143

126

149

Barry Bonds

SF

2001

129

137

177

Aaron Judge

NYY

2017

128

114

127

In Rarified Air

But, when you put all four categories together, you find something even more elite–only seven times has a player put together totals of 52-plus homers, 128-plus runs, 114-plus homers and 127-plus walks in the same season–and four of them were by Babe Ruth. McGwire in 1998 and Bonds in 2001 were the others.

Consider that he also had nine stolen bases and you find that only Bonds and Ruth twice had more steals in their big years.

Players with 52+ HR, 128+ Runs, 114+ RBIs, 127+ BB

PlayerTeamYearHRRRBIBB

Babe Ruth

NYY

1920

54

158

135

150

Babe Ruth

NYY

1921

59

177

168

145

Babe Ruth

NYY

1927

60

158

165

137

Babe Ruth

NYY

1928

54

163

146

137

Mark McGwire

StL

1998

70

130

147

162

Barry Bonds

SF

2001

73

129

137

177

Aaron Judge

NYY

2017

52

128

114

127

More to Come?

It’s easy to see why Judge won the Rookie of the Year award, since no other rookie has ever put together numbers like he has. It’s a little hard to see how he ended up runner-up for MVP, though, since his season clearly ranked as one of the greatest of all-time–especially when you consider he’s an above-average right fielder with a top-quality arm.

Although he hasn’t been too consistent the past few seasons, Judge is well on his way to having more monster seasons, even if it may not quite match his rookie year. While he has encountered some freak injuries the past few seasons, he has shown plenty of glimpses of his rookie year greatness.

© 2018 GaryKauffman

Comments

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on June 16, 2018:

Two hundred strikeouts just isn't that big of a deal any more. Especially it isn't when you walk that much, and hit for such a decent average with great power.

I remember the year I started watching baseball. It was 1986. My team, the Texas Rangers, had rookie Pete Incaviglia, and he struck out 185 times. That led the league, and I think that was some sort of record then. And if I recall correctly, it was not long before Rob Deer broke Inky's record.

But in the time since then the average fastball speed has went up, up, and then up some more.

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