Aaron Judge almost clinched the home run crown fairly early last summer on his way to hitting an AL-record 62 home runs, 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 back-to-back seasons in more than a decade. So will someone dethrone Judge this season or will he run away with the title again?
We asked five MLB.com writers to pick their 2023 home run king, and here’s who they picked:
José Bautista of the Blue Jays 2010-11 is the only player this century to lead the Majors in home runs in back-to-back seasons. So while predicting another home run title for Judge may seem like an obvious choice at first glance, this is in fact a selection against the current, people.
After his monumental 2022 campaign, Judge is the only active major leaguer with multiple 50-homer seasons under his belt. Only Nolan Arenado (229) has gone deep more often than Judge (220) since his debut in 2016, and the reigning AL MVP has nearly 1,000 fewer PAs than the Cardinals star in that span. Even in Judge’s injury-shortened seasons of 2018 and 2019, he was on pace for roughly 40 home runs each. Only four players reached the 40-homer plateau last season, and that’s basically Judge’s floor.
It is foolish to predict that Judge will ever exceed 60 again. However, as if he needed help, the 2023 calendar seems to be in his favor. The balanced format could benefit every team in the AL East, and Judge should enjoy those extra interleague matchups after crushing National League pitchers with 10 home runs and a 1.313 OPS in 20 games on the year. past. Here’s one such series to mark on his calendars right now: Judge will visit Coors Field for the first time July 14-16, immediately after the All-Star break. –Brian Murphy
Last year, Trout hit 40 home runs in just 119 games, becoming the fourth player to hit 40 in fewer than 120 games. He has three 40-homer seasons since 2015, tied for the most in MLB during that span. He hits the ball hard and he 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 the MLB average every season, which means he’s consistently making line contact and fly balls. Check. His hard hitting rate has also been above the MLB average. Review again. In 2022, he had a barrel rate of 19.7%, the highest he’s had under Statcast tracking. Barrels are batted balls with the ideal combination of launch angle and exit velocity, generally resulting in extra-base hits. Up to that point, 38 of Trout’s 40 home runs have been hit.
Above all, however, is Mike Trout. We know he can do it. –Sarah Langs
Pop quiz, hot shot: Which player has hit the most home runs in baseball in the past four years? Duh, it’s the Polar Bear, who has crushed 146, including a rookie-record and MLB-high 53 in 2019, a total that’s nine more than Judge’s 137. Alonso has also averaged a whopping 46 home runs per 162 games and is dropping his strikeout rate from 26.4% in his debut season to 18.7% last year. Oh, and the two-time Home Run Derby champion still has the ability to hit the ball as hard as anyone (see: 116.5 mph top exit velocity as of 2022).
Another key factor to consider? Unlike Judge and Trout, who were selected first and second in this draft, Alonso hasn’t had any problems with injuries. In fact, he’s played 530 of a possible 546 games in his four seasons, a mark that ranks third in the big leagues during that time. Entering his age-28 season, Alonso has the power, past production and durability to capture the home run crown again. –Jason Catania
Full disclosure, I was toying with the idea of taking Ohtani as my pick to lead all pitchers in strikeouts this season, but instead settled on rolling with him as my home run leader. That just speaks to the absurdity of his talent, but that’s not a surprise to anyone right now. Focusing solely on hitter Ohtani, he has 80 home runs over the past two seasons. Only Aaron Judge (101) has hit more during that span.
And Ohtani’s home runs are anything but cheap. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit eight home runs with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton (13). Even Judge, who has 21 more home runs overall, has only six of those home runs during that stretch. Ohtani’s home runs have also traveled an average of 412 feet, the third-longest distance among all players with at least 50 home runs in that span. Only CJ Cron (423 feet), who played his home games at Coors Field, and Kyle Schwarber (413 feet) have averaged longer home runs.
If both Ohtani and Trout can stay healthy, it’s possible the 2023 home run quest could play out entirely within the Angels’ lineup, though Judge and company certainly have something to say about that. –Paul Casella
I picked Álvarez when we did this exercise last season, and while that didn’t exactly work — thank you, judge — Álvarez also did nothing to damage the notion that he has a home run title in his future. First, he’s all red on his Baseball Savant page: 100th percentile in average exit velocity, hard hit rate, barrel rate and expected slugging percentage. Virtually no one makes higher-quality contacts than Alvarez, who also gave himself more opportunities for home runs by cutting more than five percentage points off his strikeout rate. Or you could ignore all those numbers and just watch Alvarez’s massive home run from Game 1 of the ALDS on a loop to get the same impression.
Either way, Álvarez is just 25 years old, an extraordinary talent and a history of smashing baseballs. If he can stay healthy for a full season (and Judge isn’t the author of another historic season), he’ll be in the mix. — Andres Simon