Mark McGwire believes that Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge both have the potential to break Barry Bonds’ home run record.
Baseball’s different eras can make a different sport out of the same game. Numbers don’t mean the same thing thirty years apart. A record can be broken, and in a matter of months, become unbreakable again.
No one will get a base hit in 57 straight games. No one will play 2,633 in a row.
Roger Maris’ record 61 home runs in 1961 used to be one of those records. In 1997, Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. showed that 61 wasn’t unbreakable anymore. In 1998, McGwire and Sosa made mincemeat of 61.
McGwire’s 70-home-run season was never an unbreakable record. That’s because Mark McGwire was still playing baseball. And Griffey. And Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds.
But Bonds’ record 73 home runs, surpassing McGwire in 2001, turned unbreakable when the game cleaned up. Could a player ever hit 74 home runs without performance enhancing drugs?
Mark McGwire thinks so.
“You think someone is going to break Barry Bonds’ record?” Jayson Stark asked McGwire in the first episode of Baseball Stories.
Without hesitation, McGwire responded: Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge.
“If not both,” he added. “The thing is that they are going to have each other to push each other. They are probably going to have this competition.”
But can either of them, nevertheless both, actually top Bonds’ 73 home runs? Believe it or not, there are plenty of numbers to support McGwire’s claim that they can.
Consider, for instance, the opportunity. None of the eight seasons of 60+ home runs in baseball history have occurred without that player stepping to the plate in at least 150 games.
Last season, Stanton played 159 games. Judge played 155. Both could easily be pushing 158 games with designated hitter opportunities in the American League, barring any injuries.
The home run record wasn’t the only record Bonds broke in 2001; he set the mark for walks, too, with 177. That’s 177 times he didn’t have the opportunity to go yard.
Judge walked 127 times in 2017 and Stanton took his base just 85 times. Now that they’re on the same team, they’ll push pitchers to give them even more pitches to hit. The opportunity will be there.
The rate at which home runs are currently being hit in the league shouldn’t be ignored. Once strict steroid testing and punishments were implemented in 2006 (50-game, 100-game and lifetime bans), the number of home runs hit each season dropped precipitously.
Then, in the summer of 2015, things changed.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the rate at which home runs were hit increased more at the all-star break in ’15 than it had at any other break since at least 1950. In 2016, there were nearly as many homers hit as there were in 2000, when there were a record-high.
2017 broke that record with 6,105 home runs, over 400 more than the previous mark. And that’s in a league that isn’t infested with steroids.
We get it: Teams are stressing launch angle and not as concerned with strikeouts. But we have to ask: Are home runs getting easier to hit?
And for perspective on just how many 111 HRs is… Here are all 111 HRs Stanton and Judge's hit last year pic.twitter.com/OgGI6CYvqw
— Daren Willman (@darenw) December 9, 2017
Last season, Giancarlo Stanton averaged one home run for every 10.1 at-bats, while Aaron Judge launched one every 10.4 at-bats. Stanton’s career average is a homer every 13.37 ABs, fourth only behind Bonds (12.92), Ruth (11.76) and McGwire (10.61).
Even before they were teammates, Judge and Stanton were being compared. With similar (giant) body builds (Stanton stands 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds while Judge stands 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds), they have been naturally juxtaposed ever since Judge arrived on the scene. So much so that Stanton complained to reporters in May of 2017 for being asked about Judge every single day.
But that all changed this offseason when the Yankees added Stanton, the 2017 leader in home runs with 59, to the roster. He joined Judge, who broke McGwire’s rookie home run record last season with 52 blasts after it had stood at 49 since 1987.
“The future for him as a bona fide home run hitter is bright,” McGwire told MLB.com last September after Judge passed his record. “Who knows what the number is going to be. Watch out 73. Seriously.”
There may be no bigger fan of Stanton’s and Judge’s than Statcast. These guys are not just hitting the ball out of the park – they’re hitting the ball hard.
Coming into the 2018 season, Stanton and Judge combined for nine of the hardest-hit home runs in the majors since the Statcast era began in 2015, and 14 of the hardest 16. After Stanton hit a 117.9 mph home run on April 4 of this year, Judge and Stanton officially claimed all 10 spots on the top-10 hardest-hit home runs list.
With that, the list of @statcast's 10 hardest HR is all Stanton/Judge. Sorry, Carlos Gonzalez
1. Judge 121.1 mph
2. Judge 119.4
3. Stanton 119.2
4. Stanton 118.7
5. Judge 118.6
6. Stanton 118.5
7. Judge 118.4
8. Judge 118.3
9. Stanton 118.2
10. Stanton 117.9 <— today
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) April 4, 2018
“They are big, they are very strong and one has made incredible adjustments in the six or seven years he has played and one is just starting to make adjustments, McGwire told Stark. “It is going to be really scary with Judge and Stanton.”
From 2015-17, there were 56 home runs in MLB hit 115 mph or harder, and Stanton and Judge combined for 31 of them – 19 for Stanton and 12 for Judge. Judge led the majors with a 110.0-mph average home run velocity in 2017, while Stanton followed closely behind with a 109.3 mph average. Judge currently holds the Statcast record for hardest-hit home run at 121.1 mph, but Stanton has the Statcast record for a hit of any kind – a 122.2 mph single.
In addition to dominating the Statcast exit velocity charts, Stanton has the official Statcast record for the farthest home run at 504 feet on Aug. 6, 2016, and is the only player to hit a 500-foot homer or farther since the technology debuted. Judge is not far behind him with a 495-foot home run (tied with Kris Bryant) on June 11, 2017, that cleared the bleachers at Yankee Stadium.
“If you go off of our statistics from last season, you get a sense of what each of us can do,” Stanton told Yankees Magazine. “When you put us together, hopefully that makes us even better.”
It’s been a long time since the league saw this kind of power on the same team. When the Yankees traded for Stanton this offseason, they became the first team to lead the majors in home runs (241) and then acquire the previous season’s home run leader since they purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in 1919.
Stanton and Judge are only the second pair of teammates who each hit at least 50 homers the previous season, joining Yankees Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who hit 115 combined longballs en route to a World Series title in 1961.
“That’s the coolest thing I’ve enjoyed so far about being with the Yankees,” Judge told Bleacher Report. “We’re surrounded by so many great players and ex-players, so many great legends. You don’t take all the information, but you take bits and pieces from some guys and you form it into your own swing, your own approach. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
Whether or not 73 is attainable for Stanton and Judge, a spot among the greatest home run duos of all-time is theirs for the taking.
When asked by Stark whether he thinks Stanton or Judge could hit 150 home runs combined in a season, he replied, “I would never rule it out, no.”
They’ve got the build, they’ve got the power and drive – now all that’s left is for the world to sit back and watch history unfold in the Bronx.
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