A year after a remarkable MVP campaign that saw him break Roger Maris’ long-standing American League record with 62 home runs, Aaron Judge looks poised for an encore performance.

In his first at-bat of 2023, he swung and connected on a sinker from San Francisco Giants pitcher Logan Webb that veered back into the middle of the strike zone. Judge sent the ball on a high arc toward the center-field wall, just past the outstretched glove of a leaping Mike Yastrzemski.

“He’s done it already,” Yankees announcer John Sterling exclaimed as Judge rounded the bases to a standing ovation, greeting his teammates in the dugout with a big smile.

Judge is off to a solid start with five home runs and a .286 batting average through Sunday. A season ago, he homered just once in his first 13 games. He even had a couple other relatively cold stretches: a nine-game homerless stretch in August and, as he closed in on Maris, one home run over 13 games before he finally hit record-breaking No. 62 in the Yankees’ next-to-last game.

Can he do it again? The assumption: probably not. Judge knows he’s battling history. After all, the last player with even back-to-back 45-homer seasons was Ryan Howard, who did it four straight seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies from 2006 to 2009.

“I know very few followed up with 60. A couple I know hit 50 after that. But we’ll see what happens,” Judge said on Opening Day. “Maybe we can make a new list. We’ll see.”

Judge not only crushed home runs in 2022 but hit for a high average (.311) and drew a ton of walks (111), giving him an overall line of .311/.425/.686. Via the metrics at Baseball-Reference.com, Judge created an estimated 80 runs more than the average batter would have over the same number of plate appearances (adjusting for home park and league run-scoring environment, so a player from low-scoring 1968 can be compared to a player from high-scoring 2001). Since the beginning of the expansion era in 1961, only three players created more runs above average in a season than Judge: Barry Bonds (three times), Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, with Mickey Mantle matching Judge at +80 in 1961.

Let’s break down what Judge may accomplish in 2023 by digging into the past and considering three areas of performance: (1) Career seasons; (2) The consistency of great hitters; (3) What happens in the season immediately following a great season.

For this study, I considered players with at least 6,000 plate appearances since 1961 with an OPS+ of 100 or better, plus all players with at least 5,000 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 120 or better. This gives us a list of 357 players. I’m using the batting runs above average metric from Baseball-Reference because we’re only focusing on Judge’s offense (unlike WAR, in which defense is part of the equation) and avoided using a rate metric like weighted runs created (wRC+) or OPS+, since we want to factor in playing time. I didn’t just focus on home runs because part of what made Judge’s 2022 season so spectacular was his all-around offensive value — plus, home runs are more plentiful in some seasons and eras than others. I also focused on players with longer careers to avoid comparisons to players who might have had just one or two seasons as full-time players.

Let’s take a look.

Career seasons

Our first question: What does a career season even look like? It’s certainly possible — or even likely — that Judge just had his in 2022. His +80 batting runs above average is 22 more than his second-best total, when he was +58 as a rookie in 2017, the season he slugged 52 home runs. Overall, our 357 players averaged eight more runs created in their best seasons compared to their second best (+40.5 to +32.5). If Judge ends up at +72 runs in 2023, that would still be historically impressive; the only other +70 season since Bonds in 2004 was Bryce Harper’s +71 in 2015.

Judge, however, is coming off such a high level of play that the odds would suggest a decline bigger than eight runs. Let’s look at players with the biggest drop in estimated runs more than average from their career season to second-best season. Judge’s current 22-run differential between 2022 and 2017 just misses the top 10 (13 with ties):

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