By Cliff Corcoran
Aaron Judge tied and broke the MLB rookie home run record on Monday with his 49th and 50th home runs of the season -- surpassing Mark McGwire's 30-year-old mark -- in an 11-3 Yankees win over the Royals. It was the second straight game in which Judge had hit two home runs and his seventh multi-homer game of the season (second only to Giancarlo Stanton's nine). Now hitting .307/.444/.893 with 13 home runs in September, Judge has surged back into the American League Most Valuable Player Award conversation.
As for the AL Rookie of the Year award, he had that sewn up long ago, and should win it unanimously. The only question there is just where Judge's season ranks among the great rookie campaigns in Major League history, specifically when it comes to offense. Not that Judge is any slouch in the field or on the bases, but I'd like to compare him to other great rookies of the past from a hitting perspective.
wOBA is weighted on-base average, which uses linear weights to credit a player appropriately for each method of reaching base (a home run counts more than a walk, etc.); wRC+ is weighted runs created plus, which is comparable to OPS+, but gives appropriate added weight to on-base percentage (as with OPS+, it is adjusted for ballpark factors and scaled against a league average of 100); Adj. BR is adjusted batting runs, which is a cumulative statistic that uses linear weights to credit a player for his batting contributions, it is adjusted to a league average of 0.0.
9. Fred Lynn, CF, Red Sox, 1975
.331/.401/.566, 21 HR, 105 RBI, 103 R, 175 H, 47 2B, 7 3B, 299 TB, 62 BB, 90 K
.427 wOBA, 161 wRC+, 46 Adj. BR
Lynn was the first player ever to win his league's Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season (only one other has done so since: Ichiro Suzuki in 2001). Lynn led the Majors in slugging and doubles, the AL in runs and OPS, and won the Gold Glove for his play in center field.
8. Mark McGwire, 1B, A's, 1987
.289/.370/.618, 49 HR, 118 RBI, 97 R, 161 H, 28 2B, 4 3B, 344 TB, 71 BB, 131 K
.411 wOBA, 157 wRC+, 51 Adj. BR
Like Judge this year, McGwire broke the rookie home run record, smashing the previous mark of 38 set by Wally Berger in 1930 and tied by Frank Robinson in 1956. McGwire's 49 home runs tied NL MVP Andre Dawson for the Major League lead, while his .618 slugging percentage stood alone as the Majors' best figure and is still a record for rookies with at least 500 plate appearances.
7. Dick Allen, 3B, Phillies, 1964
.318/.382/.557, 29 HR, 91 RBI, 125 R, 201 H, 38 2B, 13 3B, 352 TB, 67 BB, 138 K
.405 wOBA, 162 wRC+, 52 Adj. BR
Allen was arguably the best player in the National League in 1964, a capable third baseman with a powerful bat who led the league in total bases and the Majors in triples and runs scored. Unfortunately, the Phillies' infamous "Phlop," which saw Philadelphia blow a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left to play, losing the first 10 of those games in a row, ended any chance of Allen beating Lynn to the ROY/MVP two-fer. Never mind that Allen hit .429/.462/.796 over those final dozen games. Allen eventually won his MVP with the White Sox in 1972, and though his career was short and erratic, there are many who believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
6. Mike Trout, CF, Angels, 2012
.326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 R, 182 H, 27 2B, 8 3B, 315 TB, 67 BB, 139 K
.409 wOBA, 167 wRC+, 54 Adj. BR
By wins above replacement, Trout's 2012 was the greatest rookie season of all time, by hitter or pitcher. However, those evaluations (10.8 bWAR, 11.0 fWAR, 8.6 WARP) include measures of his outstanding base running (a Major League-best 49 steals at a 91 percent success rate) and play in the outfield. Limiting the discussion to what he did with the bat, Trout was "merely" the sixth-best rookie hitter of all time. Trout was stiffed for the AL MVP that season because Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown. Trout has had a strong MVP case every year since, including this one.
5. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox, 2014
.317/.383/.581, 36 HR, 107 RBI, 80 R, 176 H, 35 2B, 2 3B, 323 TB, 51 BB, 131 K
.411 wOBA, 167 wRC+, 53 Adj. BR
Abreu arrived in the Majors for his age-27 season with a reputation as "the Cuban Barry Bonds," and while he may have fallen short of that honorific, he nonetheless led the Majors in slugging and OPS+ as a rookie, winning the Silver Slugger and finishing fourth in the AL MVP Award voting despite playing for a White Sox team that won just 73 games. Abreu had an oddly bifurcated rookie season, bashing 26 home runs through July 1, but with a mere .329 on-base percentage, then taking a more measured approach the rest of the way, with just 10 more homers, but a .434 OBP. This year, he joined Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols as the only players ever to hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs in each of their first four Major League seasons.
4. Albert Pujols, OF/3B/1B, Cardinals, 2001
.329/.403/.610, 37 HR, 130 RBI, 112 R, 194 H, 47 2B, 4 3B, 360 TB, 69 BB, 93 K
.423 wOBA, 159 wRC+, 52 Adj. BR
Speaking of Pujols, the extreme run-scoring levels of 2001 take some of the shine off Pujols raw numbers, at least per wRC+. Nonetheless, only one other hitter in Major Leaguer history posted a slash line of .300/.400/.600 or better in 500 or more plate appearances in his rookie season (he's on this list). Even more remarkable, Pujols performed at this level, or higher, for the next nine seasons, hitting .332/.428/.626 from 2002 through 2010, winning three MVP Awards (and deserving more), and establishing himself as one of the greatest hitters in Major League history.
3. Aaron Judge, RF, Yankees, 2017
.283/.418/.620, 50 HR, 108 RBI, 149 R, 149 H, 22 2B, 3 3B, 327 TB, 120 BB, 203 K
.426 wOBA, 169 wRC+, 52 Adj. BR
How good has Judge been this year? Look at the names I have ranked below him on this list, including some of the best hitters in history. Rookie seasons this good are not flukes. Judge is a genuinely great hitter and should remain one for years to come.
2. Ted Williams, LF, Red Sox, 1939
.327/.436/.609, 31 HR, 145 RBI, 131 R, 185 H, 44 2B, 11 3B, 344 TB, 107 BB, 64 K
.464 wOBA, 156 wRC+, 55 Adj. BR
Williams is the other guy to put up a .300/.400/.600 line in at least 500 plate appearances as a rookie. He led the AL in total bases and the Majors in RBIs: 145 is a rookie record that still stands. The Splendid Splinter's 107 walks were also a rookie record until Judge surpassed it, with far less ceremony, two weeks ago.
1. Joe Jackson, OF, Indians, 1911
.408/.468/.590, 7 HR, 83 RBI, 126 R, 233 H, 45 2B, 19 3B, 337 TB, 56 BB, 42 K
.494 wOBA, 212 wRC+, 72 Adj. BR
Per those advanced stats, Jackson is on another planet compared to the rest of the rookies listed here. That's because he put up that line in a league that averaged a mere .273/.338/.358. Jackson is the only rookie to hit .400 in a qualifying season since 1872, when teams played fewer than 50 games per season and the National League was still four years from starting play. Among hitters with 500 or more PA, the next highest rookie batting average in AL and NL history was Bill Everitt's .358 in 1895, a full 50 points lower than Jackson's mark. Jackson's on-base percentage also stands as a record for rookies with at least 500 PA. His 233 hits were a rookie record for 90 years until Ichiro Suzuki broke it in 2001. Jackson was banned from the game after the 1920 season for the Black Sox scandal, but he would be a surefire Hall of Famer if eligible. His career marks of .443 wOBA, 165 wRC+ both rank eighth all-time, the latter tied with Ty Cobb.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.