Russell: Yankees Aaron Judge Passes Joe DiMaggio and Has Mark McGwire In His Sights

Aaron Judge tied the Yankees rookie record with his 29th home run of the season on Wednesday. It’s always good to be in the same category with Joe DiMaggio but what’s astounding about this is that we’re not even at the All-Star break while the Yankee Clipper hit his 29th home run of 1936 on September 13.

“It’s incredible,” Judge said after the game. “Any time you’re in the same sentence with someone like DiMaggio is pretty cool. It’s quite an honor.”

DiMaggio was an All-Star that year, but not only will Judge be in the starting outfield at the Midsummer Classix next Tuesday, he was the leading vote getter in the AL. And Judge is leading the league in homers and RBI, while only a few points off the batting title.

How impressive has this first half been? The man who hit .179 late in 2016 and didn’t win the starting job in right field until the last week of spring training has a good chance of winning the MVP. Despite the Yankees recent struggles, if the season ended today they would be hosting the AL Wild Card game.

Sure, Judge has already struck out more than 100 times, including one to end Wednesday’s game, and will probably finish somewhere around 200. DiMaggio never struck out 40 times in a season and only had 369 career strikeouts to go along with 361 home runs. Strikeouts are so common and accepted now, that hardly anyone bats an eye. Mike Trout struck out more in his first four seasons than Yogi Berra did in his entire career but there’s no question Trout is the best in the game.

Although the high strikeout totals don’t show it, Judge has had much better plate discipline. Last season it was an all or nothing swing, home run or bust. Now he’s hitting over .330 with three games until the All-Star break. And Judge has already walked 59 times this season, while DiMaggio walked 24 times in 1936.

DiMaggio helped the Yankees win the World Series in his first season. He actually won the World Series in each of his first four seasons, but we’ll stick to the initial campaigns here. DiMaggio hit .323 with 29 homers and 125 RBI, which was good enough to finish 8th in the MVP voting.

Once Judge passes DiMaggio, he can look to Mark McGwire and his record of 49 home runs as a rookie in 1987. McGwire hit three home runs late in 1986 before his barrage in what still qualified as a rookie season. McGwire set a rookie record with 33 homers by the All-Star break. He would finish just shy of 50, skipping the end of the season to be with his wife as she gave birth. McGwire won the Rookie of the Year award and finished sixth in the MVP voting with an Oakland team on the cusp of a mini dynasty in the AL.

McGwire was more of an all or nothing hitter as his .263 career batting average showed, although 583 homers and the
best at bats per home run ratio in history probably make up for that.

Joining the 30 homer club is next and you don’t want to look ahead too far but if Judge can have a second half near
as good as his first then he might be joining Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki as rookies to win the MVP Award.

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