Aaron Judge Had the Greatest Rookie Season Ever

Updated on March 22, 2019
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Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance sports 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. | Source

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 last year with 39, the third highest of all time by any rookie.

Aaron Judge's 2017 Stats

G
AB
R
H
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
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

Player
Team
Year
R
RBI
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
Stats compiled using Baseball Reference

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

Player
Team
Year
R
RBI
BB
Ted Williams
Bos
1939
131
145
107
Al Rosen
Cle
1950
100
116
100
Aaron Judge
NYY
2017
128
114
127
Stats compiled using Baseball Reference

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

Player
Team
Year
OBP
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
Stats compiled with Baseball Reference

Top Rookie Slugging Percentage

Player
Team
Year
Slg Pct
Rudy York
Det
1937
.651
Aaron Judge
NYY
2017
.627
Stats compiled with Baseball Reference

Top Rookie OPS

Player
Team
Year
OPS
Joe Jackson
Cle
1911
1.058
Aaron Judge
NYY
2017
1.049
Stats compiled with Baseball Reference

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

Player
Team
Year
R
RBI
BB
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
Stats compiled using Baseball Reference

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

Player
Team
Year
HR
R
RBI
BB
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
Stats compiled using Baseball Reference

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 yet this season, Judge is well on his way to having another monster season, even if it may not quite match his rookie year. Currently he’s on a pace for about 45 homers, 120 runs, 115 RBIs and 117 walks–which would rank as the 17th such season. That’s not too shabby for a follow-up year.

Questions & Answers

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      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        16 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        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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