We are only around 40 games into the 2022 MLB season. It’s not a lot, considering that leaves about 122 games left, but it is enough to start looking at what certain players are doing. At this point last year we were already watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Shohei Ohtani, and Corbin Burnes have incredible seasons, which they kept up for the remainder of the games. Sure, there are always some flukes atop the leaderboards this early on in the season, but there are also times where the player leads a category almost wire-to-wire. There are a few candidates for that this season already. These are the five current stat leaders that I think will still hold that lead at the end of the season.
Home Runs: Aaron Judge
The Yankees have been the story of the season so far with more wins than any other team. And while I don’t know if breakout pitcher Nestor Cortes can maintain his spot at the top of the ERA leaderboard, I do think Judge has what it takes to win the home run crown. The New York right fielder has 14 home runs in 36 games, which puts him on pace for nearly 60 long balls. He likely won’t reach that astronomical mark, but he could still hit the most if he ends up in somewhere in the 50-homer range. It wouldn’t be the first time Judge hit over 50 blasts. He led the American League in 2017, which was also his rookie year, with 52 home runs. That number is certainly in play if he keeps up his amazing start to the season. The one thing standing in the way of Judge and his home runs this year (and every other year) is his health. He seems to always spend a decent chunk of time on the IL, which seriously hinders his ability to lead the league in any category. Luckily for him, the four players closest to him in home runs right now, Yordan Alvarez with 12, Byron Buxton, Giancarlo Stanton, and Mike Trout with 11, also come with some injury concerns. That makes it possible for Judge to miss some time and still maintain his long ball lead. But if the Yankees’ slugger stays healthy, he seems like a very good bet to lead the MLB in home runs.
Strikeouts: Dylan Cease
Cease isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you hear strikeout king but that is the title he holds at the moment. He hasn’t been the most dominant pitcher in other facets of the game but Cease’s swing-and-miss stuff is elite. He led the American League with a 12.3 K/9 rate last season on his way to 226 strikeouts. He finished seventh in the league in strikeouts behind six established aces. So there is reason to believe that Cease’s strikeout ability is good enough to lead the league. He is once again missing bats this year, as he leads the league with 67 strikeouts. There is some stiff competition, two other pitchers over 60 strikeouts and six more over 55, but Cease should be able to hold them off. The biggest reason to believe that is that Cease has pitched fewer innings than any other pitcher with 55 strikeouts or more other than Carlos Rodon, who has 56. Players can sometimes get out to early leads due to a huge gap in innings but that is not the case here. Cease has been more efficient with his strikeouts than nearly any other pitcher, which makes him a very good candidate to rack up the most strikeouts when all is said and done.
Walks: Juan Soto
Luckily, I didn’t claim these would be bold predictions because this one is anything but bold. It is no secret that Soto is one of the best young hitters in the game. No, scratch that, he is one of the best hitters in the game. Period. When the comparisons to Ted Williams aren’t hyperbolic, you know the kid is special. Due to that immense hitting ability and impeccable late vision, Soto draws a lot of walks. He led the league in walks last season with 145, a full 34 walks better than second place. It seems like a lock that Soto will repeat that feat, despite holding just a three-walk lead at the moment. At this point, the only person that can prevent the Nationals’ outfielder from drawing the most walks this season is him. If Soto starts racking up more hits earlier in the count, then that means fewer chances to draw a base-on-balls. That obviously is not a bad thing, which is why it makes this stat so hard to predict sometimes. I still think Soto will end up leading the league in walks, even if it is with a lower number than last year.
WHIP: Justin Verlander
Surprisingly, this is one of just two basic stats that Verlander currently leads in, the other is opponent batting average (he is technically tied in wins but there are a bunch of pitchers with five so it feels less special). So consider my inclusion of Verlander and his league-leading WHIP as a means of me saying that I am fully buying his comeback season. The Astros’ ace could very well end the season atop ERA (he is 0.03 behind the leader right now), wins, or any other stat. But we will stick with WHIP for now because it is what he is currently the leader of. There are a few reasons why Verlander’s WHIP lead will remain at the end of the year. The first is that he has a decent lead already. He has a 0.15 in the category over Corbin Burnes in second. It may not seem like much considering it is still a decimal number but if you add that same amount to Burnes’s total it would take you down to 11th. The other reason that inspires confidence in Verlander’s WHIP is that he has been historically dominant in that category. He has led the league in WHIP three times in his career, including the last two full seasons that he has pitched in. So this is clearly a level of play that he can keep up, considering he has done it many times before.
Doubles: Rafael Devers
Devers is having the type of season that will make the Red Sox really regret not getting an extension done over the offseason. He is tied for the league lead in hits and is top-five in batting average. But it is the doubles that Devers truly excels at. He has notched 15 doubles so far this season, which puts him tied with Matt Olson for the most in the MLB. Devers has always been a doubles machine, hitting more two-baggers than home runs in each season of his career except for last season where he fell one double short. He has also already led the American League in doubles before, hitting 54 in 2019, a year he also led the league in total bases. Safe to say, Devers is a player that likes to hit the ball and end up at second base. He is going to have to carry a large offensive load this season as the Red Sox look like they are in for a rough season but Devers should be able to keep up his penchant for doubles and end up at the top of that category.