What it means to hit 50 home runs in Major League Baseball as a rookie

Aaron James Judge accomplished an improbable feat on Monday Night as he tied and passed the infamous Mark McGwire’s record of 49 home runs in a rookie season. In the 114 years since Major League Baseball was officially founded, no player had ever hit 50 home runs in their inaugural season. None of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron or any Hall of Fame baseball player for that matter, nor the prolific juiced hitters of the late 1990s and early 2000s were able to successfully blast 50 bombs out of their respective ballparks over the course of their first season in the sport.
Photo Credit: Seth Wenig | AP

Rookies in Major League Baseball are considered the “new kids on the block,” and they range from highly touted prospects to 30th round hidden gems. However, all of them, regardless of their pre-MLB prowess, share one thing in common, and that is the fact that they had yet to face the best talent the world has to offer on the biggest stage. Sure, rookies like Aaron Judge could have faced the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Michael Fulmer, Lance McCullers, Aaron Nola, etc. in their time in the farm system, but Judge and other rookies did not face this caliber of pitching day in and day out and especially not in MLB stadiums on the national stage.  

Former NFL defensive lineman for the St. Louis Rams, Matt Conrath, spoke to my Sports Business Club at the University of Virginia and was asked about his transition from College Football to the NFL. His number one emphasis to all of us was, that if you are fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to continue playing a sport from the collegiate level into the professional business, that the first thing you notice is the massive leap in strength and ability of your new opponents. In Major League Baseball, it works the same way for rookie hitters. If you have hit well enough in the Minor Leagues to be promoted to a Major League roster, then you are officially facing some of if not the best pitchers in the entire world. In most cases, there is a reason why a pitcher is pitching in AAA or AA baseball games and not on the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. If an offensive player has the earned a call up to a MLB roster, then they proved they can handle lower level professional talent, but in order to stay on an MLB team long-term, they need to display the ability to handle the world-class pitching.

So, what does any of this have to do with blasting 50 home runs as rookie? Well here is a number to start us off, 44. 44 is the total number of times a player has hit 50 or more home runs in a season, before Judge became the 45th instance. The year was 1920 when Babe Ruth became the first MLB player to slug 50 home runs in a single season, then it took almost 100 years for Aaron Judge to accomplish the same exact feat, but in his first full season, while also facing the best talent on the planet.
Photo Credit: NY Post
The reason the 44 other occasions occurred in a season past the respective player’s rookie season is due to a variety of reasons. Rookies are typically not given nearly the amount of playing time as their veteran teammates due to their lack of experience and managers usually have the tendency to not stick with them for long periods of time during slumps. Joe Girardi and the Yankees gave Aaron Judge the starting right field position over the longer tenured Aaron Hicks in Spring Training, and stuck with Judge during his midseason slump when there were other players who could have easily taken his spot in the lineup. This recognition of his raw talent and the belief in his ability were two major reasons why he was able to accomplish what no rookie had ever done before.

Rookies are supposed to develop over time as they gain experience and knowledge of their adversaries on the mound. While some rookies breakout and make their presence known, offensive anomalies like Aaron Judge’s 2017 season are breakouts that may never be seen again in any current fan’s lifetime. Aaron Judge has the opportunity to pad his own record as the remaining six games wind down, but regardless of how he finishes, Judge accomplished a truly fascinating record that should not logically be possible in Major League Baseball. Judge had all the odds against him, but Suzyn, you can't predict baseball.

Article by: Ryan Thoms


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