9 key numbers from MLB's first half: Aaron Judge matching historic home run pace (2024)

If you blinked, you might have missed the first half of the Major League Baseball season.

Yep, we are already at Game 81 for many teams, with all of them passing that mark by the weekend. Half the grind is over, and it remains to be seen how much of the back end is simply incidental.

There’s just one sure-fire compelling divisional race, one or two more that should be competitive and three others that might be over by Labor Day. Beneath that, a floating mass of 19 teams can lay claim to “wild card hopes,” such as they are.

Yet it’s not all about the flags, at least right now. The halfway mark gives us a nifty opportunity to check the numbers and see which players and teams are headed toward history – or ignominy.

A look at nine key numbers as MLB makes the turn in the backstretch:

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9 key numbers from MLB's first half: Aaron Judge matching historic home run pace (1)

Aaron Judge: 30 home runs

They’re already freaking out that Judge has matched his 2022 81-game homer mark, which was a prelude to his American League record-setting 62-homer barrage. Hey, the weather’s only now heating up, too.

Yeah, it’s pretty remarkable that Judge pounded 24 home runs in 45 games after hitting just six in his first 35. And it’s also a little scary how similar his numbers are stacking up to that epic 2022 season, when he batted .311/.425/.686, for an 1.111 OPS.

This year: .306/.431/.701, 1.132. All this after a slow start.

It adds kindling to the hot take that only Dodger Stadium’s chain link fence can stop him, that perhaps he’d have put together the most stunningly robotic three-year run we’ve seen from a 6-7 slugger. Well, he’s halfway to a 2022 repeat, and that’s not bad.

Gunnar Henderson: 5.9 WAR

Sure, it’s not quite as fun to toss WAR out there at the halfway mark, since multiplying by two just isn’t quite that simple. Yet it’s still a staggering number through 80 games – particularly when you consider that no player has produced a 12-win season, as computed by Baseball-Reference, since Carl Yastrzemski’s 12.4-WAR season in his Triple Crown-winning 1967 campaign.

Yet Henderson’s first half has been that good.

His 26 home runs are second to Judge’s 30, one ahead of Shohei Ohtani. He has 13 steals in 14 tries, a 1.005 OPS, a .387 OBP. His 70 runs lead the major leagues, which you might expect from a guy who hits leadoff most nights. Yet he’s on pace to drive in 114 runs, too.

All this in a 22-year-old shortstop – who, by the way, is tied for 11th in outs above average.

Henderson has shown little signs of slowing and looks like a strong bet to join Mookie Betts (10.7, 2018), Judge (10.5, 2022) and Mike Trout (10.5, 2016) with the lone double-digit WAR seasons in the past decade.

Spoiler alert: Those guys all won AL MVPs in their 10-WAR seasons.

Paul Skenes: 11.8 K/9, 7.63 K/BB

9 key numbers from MLB's first half: Aaron Judge matching historic home run pace (2)

The reigning No. 1 overall pick and the most exciting pitching prospect in 15 years has something of an incomplete grade, since he was summoned in May and his stats after eight starts are more befitting the one-fourth mark than the halfway point.

But those stats are really, really good.

Never mind the 61 strikeouts in 46 ⅓ innings, which projects to 244 punchouts in a 32-start season. Rather, it’s both his dominance and command that bode so well for the 6-6, 235-pounder from LSU.

If he pitched sufficient innings to qualify, Skenes’ strikeouts per nine would rank third in the majors, behind Garrett Crochet and Tyler Glasnow, and his strikeout-walk ratio fourth. It’s even more impressive when you consider he’s workshopping five pitches at the big league level, varying their usage significantly from start to start – though playing all of them off his 99-mph four-seam fastball isn’t a bad base from which to build.

In most plate appearances, fastball-splitter (or, splinker, as they like to call it) is more than enough. Yet he can also get swings and misses in the zone on his slider, which he throws 16% of the time with a 26.4% whiff percentage that’s not far off his 30% rate on the fastball.

It’s all added up to a 2.14 ERA, a 2.50 FIP and most important, a 6-2 Pirates record in games he starts. Appointment viewing, indeed.

Shohei Ohtani: 48 extra-base hits

We took a peek at Ohtani’s numbers during our quarterly checkup, and while they’re not quite as sublime as they were in May, the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger can still reach some astounding feats of strength.

With 25 homers through 82 team games, the first 50-dinger season of his career is within reach, and he's on pace to top the career-high 46 he slugged in 2021. Yet his 25 homers, 21 doubles and two triples give him a shot at a little-known milestone: 100 extra-base hits.

There have been just 13 seasons of 100 extra-base hits, with eight of those coming in 1937 or earlier. The only five since 1948 came in the heart of the offense-fueled steroid era. Ohtani is spraying the ball into alleys and over walls during a year in which the league batting average of .242 and OPS of .704 would be the lowest since 1968 and 1992, respectively.

Little wonder that he leads the NL in adjusted OPS (190). And batting (.322), slugging (.643) and OPS (1.045). Yeah, the guy pretty much wakes up and makes history.

Phillies, Yankees, Guardians, Orioles, Dodgers: 50-53 wins

Yeah, so this is why the pennant stretch might be a bit of a yawner. Five teams are on pace for 100 wins, with the 50-win Orioles just a game behind the Yankees to set up the most compelling race of the second half.

But the Braves may lack the consistency to chase down the Phillies in the NL East. The Guardians, behind Jose Ramirez’s 44-homer, 150-RBI pace and rookie manager, are eight games up on the streaky Twins. The Dodgers should have a double-digit lead by the All-Star break.

Enjoy the greatness, even if it saps some tension from the final three months.

9 key numbers from MLB's first half: Aaron Judge matching historic home run pace (2024)
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