Aaron Judge all but locked up the home run crown pretty early last summer on his way to hitting an American League-record 62 homers — 16 more than any other player in the Majors.
But as the focus shifts to 2023, it’s worth noting that no player has led MLB in home runs in consecutive seasons in more than a decade. So will someone dethrone Judge this season or will he once again run away with the title?
Aaron Judge, Yankees
2022 total: 62
José Bautista of the 2010-11 Blue Jays is the only player this century to lead the Majors in homers outright in consecutive seasons. So, while predicting another home run title for Judge may look like an obvious choice at first blush, this is actually an against-the-grain selection, people.
OK, maybe not.
Following his monumental 2022 campaign, Judge is the lone active big leaguer with multiple 50-homer seasons to his credit. Only Nolan Arenado (229) has gone deep more often than Judge (220) since his 2016 debut, and the reigning AL MVP has nearly 1,000 fewer plate appearances than the Cardinals star over that span. Even in Judge’s injury-shortened seasons of ’18 and ‘19, he was on pace for approximately 40 homers in each. Only four players reached the 40-homer plateau last season, and that is basically Judge’s floor.
It’s foolish to predict that Judge will surpass 60 again. However, as if he needed any help, the 2023 schedule appears to be in his favor. The balanced format could benefit all AL East squads, and Judge should enjoy those extra Interleague matchups after crushing National League pitching for 10 home runs and a 1.313 OPS over 20 games last year. Here’s one such series to circle on your calendars right now: Judge will visit Coors Field for the first time from July 14-16, immediately after the All-Star break.
Mike Trout, Angels
2022 total: 40
Last year, Trout hit 40 home runs in just 119 games, becoming just the fourth player to hit 40 while playing fewer than 120 games. He has three 40-homer seasons since 2015, tied for most in MLB during that span. He hits the ball hard and hits it in the air — the two key components to hitting a home run. In the eight years of Statcast tracking, Trout’s sweet-spot rate has been above MLB average in each season — meaning he is consistently making line-drive and fly-ball contact. Check. His hard-hit rate has been above MLB average, too. Check again. In 2022, he had a 19.7% barrel rate, the highest he’s had under Statcast tracking. Barrels are batted balls with the ideal combination of launch angle and exit velocity, typically resulting in extra-base hits. To that point, 38 of Trout’s 40 homers were barreled.
Above all, though, he’s Mike Trout. We know he can do it.
Pete Alonso, Mets
2022 total: 40
Pop quiz, hot shot: Which player has hit the most homers in baseball over the past four years? Duh, it’s the Polar Bear, who has smashed 146 — including a rookie-record and MLB-high 53 in 2019 — a total that is nine more than Judge’s 137. Alonso has also averaged a whopping 46 dingers per 162 games and he’s dropped his strikeout rate from 26.4% in his debut season to 18.7% last year. Oh, and the two-time Home Run Derby champ still has the ability to hit the ball as hard as just about anyone (see: 116.5 mph max exit velo from 2022).
Another key factor to consider? Unlike Judge and Trout, who were selected first and second in this “draft,” Alonso has had no issues with injury. In fact, he’s played 530 out of a possible 546 games in his four seasons — a mark that ranks third in the big leagues during that time. As he enters his age-28 season, Alonso has the power, the past production and the durability to capture the home run crown again. — Jason Catania
Shohei Ohtani, Angels
2022 total: 34
Full disclosure, I was toying with the idea of picking Ohtani as my choice to lead all pitchers in strikeouts this season — but I instead settled on rolling with him as my home run leader. That alone speaks to the absurdity of his talent, but that’s not a surprise to anyone at this point. Focusing solely on Ohtani the hitter, he has 80 home runs over the past two seasons. Only Aaron Judge (101) has hit more during that span.