There’s just something about making a good first impression, isn’t there? When it comes to the most home runs hit by a rookie, we’ve got plenty of first-year performances outlined below that were quite powerful.
To date, there have been just 32 different players to slug at least 30 home runs during their first season as a big league player. We’ll dig into the details of the top-10 before listing out the remainder of the top 32.
Most Home Runs Hit By a Rookie: Top 5
Pete Alonso, 2019: 53 Home Runs
It’s hard to remember now, but there was plenty of chatter surrounding Pete Alonso within the Mets organization towards the end of 2018. Why? Well, New York was out of the playoff picture, and with roster expansion coming that September, Alonso had a case to get called up and make his MLB debut.
He slugged 36 homers with 119 RBI and a .975 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A. That call-up unfortunately never came. He did make the Mets’ 2019 Opening Day roster, and the rest has been history.
Before he started making his Home Run Derby prowess known around the league, he was white-hot at the plate in the first half. Alonso slugged 30 of his 53 dingers prior to the All-Star Game. And when looking at his monthly home run production, the right-handed slugger was quite consistent. He hit fewer than eight dingers in a single month just once (six in July). Alonso also saved his best work for last. He blew past New York’s single-season home run record by the end of August. The first baseman keep the line moving by collecting 11 round-trippers in September to set the MLB rookie home run record.
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Aaron Judge, 2017: 52 Home Runs
Although he no longer holds the record, Aaron Judge has at least one claim to fame he’ll hold onto forever. He’s the first MLB rookie to ever surpass the 50-homer plateau. This also landed him among the Yankees’ single-season leaders, which is a tough group to join.
What’s interesting is all the similarities between him and Alonso. While Judge’s .329/.448/.691 first-half line was much better, the first-half/second-half homer production was nearly identical. They both hit 30 prior to the midsummer classic, and Alonso outdid Judge after the All-Star break by a single dinger.
Upon tearing the league up for three full months, the outfielder went into a funk in July and August. After hitting 27 dingers through the end of June, Judge slugged just 10 over this two-month span. He finished with a flourish in September (just like Alonso) by hitting 15 home runs with 32 RBI and a 1.352 OPS.
The rest of his career has been quite powerful, too.
Mark McGwire, 1987: 49 Home Runs
Ah, yes, the man every rookie power hitter had been chasing for so many years: Mark McGwire. While he’s no longer the record holder, there’s a clear divide in production between him, Alonso, Judge, and everyone else.
McGwire’s 49-homer barrage began a streak of four straight seasons with 30-plus homers. If we expand the sample a little more, he surpassed that mark five times over a six-year span from 1987-92. Like the other sluggers above him, the right-handed hitter got off to a red-hot start by slugging 33 homers prior to the All-Star break.
Of the six months in a typical regular season, McGwire slugged at least nine homers in a month four times. What’s crazy, though, is he only reached double digits once. That was in May when he pummeled 15 homers in 110 plate appearances. He hit exactly nine homers in each of the other three months.
It’s also worth noting that McGwire was a much better hitter on the road than at home. In virtually an identical number of plate appearances (322 at home, 319 on the road), McGwire hit more homers (28 vs. 21) drove in more runs (69 vs. 49), and had a much higher OPS (1.036 vs. .938) as a visiting player.
Cody Bellinger, 2017: 39 Home Runs
The 2017 season was full of rookies setting home run records. Not only was Judge setting the MLB mark, but Cody Bellinger also set a new bar for the National League before Alonso eventually surpassed it. What’s wild about Bellinger’s Rookie of the Year campaign is he barely played in April.
He didn’t make his debut until April 25, 2017. The outfielder was only in the majors for enough time to appear in six games. Belli did well in that short period — a .946 OPS with two homers in 24 plate appearances confirms that. But still, this meant the remainder of his homers (37, to be exact), came over the final five months for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The only time Bellinger reached double digits in a single month was June. He slugged 13 dingers while posting a .743 slugging percentage in 119 plate appearances. As the Dodgers marched toward a National League pennant, Bellinger hitting a home run in the regular season typically meant a Los Angeles victory. All but five of the outfielder’s homers as a rookie came in Dodgers wins.
Frank Robinson, 1956: 38 Home Runs
Frank Robinson last played in a major league game during the 1976 season. Despite that, he still ranks 10th all-time on the career home run leaderboard. The Hall of Famer was a constant power threat throughout his playing days, but his time in Cincinnati was the most powerful of all.
His 324 homers with the Reds is third on the franchise’s all-time list, which included seven different 30-homer performances over a 10-year span. It started with his 1956 NL Rookie of the Year campaign. In addition to those 38 homers, Robinson also posted a .290/.379/.558 line with 83 RBI and a league-leading 122 runs scored.
He and Bellinger share some similarities because Robinson also only had two homers by the end of April. The infielder then kicked it into high gear over the four months that followed. Robinson hit seven dingers in each of May and June, eight in July, and 11 in August. That month of August was not only his most powerful, but it included the most RBI (22) and highest OPS (1.071).
The right-handed hitter ran out of gas in September, slugging just three homers with nine RBI over his final 111 plate appearances. It’s safe to say he figured it out from there, though.
Most Home Runs Hit By a Rookie: No.’s 6-10
Wally Berger, 1930: 38 Home Runs
This was the first of a handful of ties. So, I decided to use wRC+ and fWAR as tiebreakers. In the case of Robinson vs. Wally Berger, Robinson won easily in both categories (145 to 131 in wRC+, 5.8 to 4.5 in fWAR).
Either way, talk about starting your big-league career with a bang, right? Berger’s 38 homers during the 1930 season set an MLB record that’d stand for 57 years. He paired it with a .990 OPS, 119 RBI, and 98 runs scored, too.
Berger was a workhorse during the first seven years of his MLB career. He appeared in at least 137 games each year while racking up four All-Star Game appearances and five top-16 MVP finishes. The final four years were rough, as he played in 100-plus games just once (115 in 1938).
That seven-year run included some impressive numbers. Over the course of 4,426 plate appearances, Berger slashed .305/.362/.533 while averaging 28 homers, 34 doubles, 103 RBI, and 91 runs scored. In addition to his rookie campaign, he slugged 30-plus dingers two other times, but neither of those instances were better than what he produced in his first year regarding the power department.
Albert Pujols, 2001: 37 Home Runs
Albert Pujols‘ rookie season began one of the most dominant stretches by a single player in MLB history. Between 2001 and 2010, Pujols accumulated 10 straight performances of at least 30 homers and 100 RBI. In fact, he only finished with a single-season OPS below 1.000 twice during this span. The Machine owned a .955 OPS in 2002 and a .997 OPS in 2007.
It’s also not surprising that all three of his MVP Awards came during this stretch.
Pujols racked up the first of many milestone homers in 2001, and he wasted no time in making his presence felt. His first month in the big leagues was quite impressive. Through Pujols’ initial 102 plate appearances, he owned a .370/.431/.739 line with eight homers and 27 RBI.
His OPS was much higher at home (1.077) than it was on the road (.951), but Pujols’ power numbers were virtually identical. He slugged 18 homers with 64 RBI at home, compared to 16 homers and 66 RBI on the road.
Al Rosen, 1950: 37 Home Runs
Al Rosen made his MLB debut in 1947, so how the heck did he hold onto his rookie status until 1950? Well, he didn’t play much in the three seasons leading up to his 37-homer campaign. In fact, Rosen only appeared in 35 games during this time, racking up 65 total plate appearances while slashing just .155/.246/.190.
It was obviously limited playing time, but nobody wants to see their on-base percentage outpace their slugging percentage. He didn’t even hit his first career homer until 1950. He made it count by leading the league that season.
Most of his work came between May and July. Rosen hit at least eight homers in each month, finishing with a total of 27 during this stretch. He hit just two to start the year in April and a total of eight dingers over the final two months.
This season was one of two times Rosen led baseball in home runs. The other occasion took place in 1953 when he hit 43. He also led the league in RBI (145), runs scored (115), and slugging percentage (.613) on his way to winning MVP honors that year.
Jose Abreu, 2014: 36 Home Runs
Jose Abreu has been a picture of consistency for the majority of his career regarding counting stats. During the eight years he’s been in the big leagues (including 2022), he’s produced five years of 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI. And one of the times he didn’t reach those benchmarks, he got close (25 homers and 100 RBI in 2016).
The first of these occurrences came during his AL Rookie of the Year campaign of 2014 for the Chicago White Sox. While he’s surpassed the 107 RBI he posted that year, the 36 homers and .964 OPS are still career-best marks (not including the pandemic-shortened 2020 season).
Most of Abreu’s power came in the first three months of the year, though. He had 25 homers through the end of June. This included two months of 10 dingers each in April and June. After slugging those 10 homers in June (which he did in 25 games), he combined to hit just 11 homers over his final 55 games played.
Abreu’s first-half OPS (.972) was quite similar to his second-half mark (.948) despite a huge discrepancy in the home run department (29 vs. 7). That’s because Abreu’s batting average spiked from .292 to .350, while his slugging percentage went from .630 to .513.
Mike Piazza, 1993: 35 Home Runs
This is another tie with the next two gentlemen on the list below and Mike Piazza. I used the same tiebreakers as before and Piazza was easily the winner. This performance from the Hall of Fame catcher was just the beginning of a ridiculous offensive streak for any player, let alone a catcher.
Between 1993 and 2001, Piazza hit fewer than 30 homers in a season just once (24 in a strike-shortened 1994) and never finished with fewer than 90 RBI or a batting average below .300. During this nine-year stretch, an average season from the backstop included a .326/.393/.583 line with 35 home runs, 25 doubles, 108 RBI, and 86 runs scored .
Although he was good throughout the whole year, it’s the last two months that likely sealed the deal for Piazza’s Rookie of the Year performance.
Through the end of July (389 plate appearances), the right-handed slugger owned a .311/.355/.536 line with 21 home runs and 67 RBI. From August 1st through the end of the regular season, his triple slash jumped up to .332/.399/.610 with 14 home runs and 45 RBI. That’ll convince voters a player is deserving of winning an individual award.
Most Home Runs Hit By a Rookie: The Rest
Here’s what the rest of the top-32 rookie home run-hitting seasons looks like at the moment:
- Hal Trosky, 1934: 35 home runs
- Rudy York, 1937: 35
- Ron Kittle, 1983: 35
- Walt Dropo, 1950: 34
- Ryan Braun, 2007: 34
- Jimmie Hall, 1963: 33
- Earl Williams, 1971: 33
- Jose Canseco, 1986: 33
- Ryan Mountcastle, 2021: 33
- Tony Oliva, 1964: 32
- Matt Nokes, 1987: 32
- Chris Young, 2007: 32
- Ted Williams, 1939: 31
- Jim Ray Hart, 1964: 31
- Tim Salmon, 1993: 31
- Adolis Garcia, 2021: 31
- Eloy Jimenez, 2019: 31
- Mike Trout, 2012: 30
- Nomar Garciaparra, 1997: 30
- Bob Allison, 1959: 30
- Willie Montanez, 1971: 30
- Pete Incaviglia, 1986: 30
To see the full single-season rookie home run standings, check it out on FanGraphs.