Turns out that Aaron Judge wasn’t really spending all this time weighing the pros and cons of participating in next Monday’s Home Run Derby.
His mind was made up a while ago. And when Judge finally did let everyone in on his secret — alongside teammate Gary Sanchez at a Monday news conference — it landed with maximum effect, conveniently enough, the day after the All-Star selection show aired on ESPN.
This is the entertainment business, after all, and why cram all the good stuff into one news cycle when there’s the opportunity to crank up the marketing machine to get a full 48 hours instead?
Judge is the biggest thing going in baseball, and there was no way he was sitting out a nationally televised spectacle like the Derby. With the first-half frenzy around him, he must feel obligated to compete.
“I wanted to wait until the All-Star stuff went out,” Judge said. “My 100 percent focus was on the team and what we were doing on the field.”
Fair enough. Everyone has been pestering Judge about the Derby for what seems like decades, so better to contain the early buzz. But it’s not as if whacking away in this event is a total no-brainer. The Astros’ Carlos Correa politely declined the invitation, saying he needed to recharge after a tiring first half. The Nationals’ Bryce Harper also brushed it aside. Those are two of the highest-profile names on two first-place teams.
For Judge, however, the pressure has to be enormous. After blowing up StatCast on a nightly basis, with ridiculous exit velos and awesome distance, how could he possibly refuse to test his gravity-bending strength on such a stage?
We can only imagine what that scenario would have been like had Judge — who still is a rookie — chosen to pass on the Derby. The pleading calls from commissioner Rob Manfred and the ESPN higher-ups. If Judge held out a bit longer, maybe a worried Manfred might have thrown in a sizable chunk of the Marlins’ franchise as a sweetener.
Judge, as the top vote-getter in either league, is a guaranteed ratings bonanza. He’s going to bring eyeballs Monday night, and if MLB is able to rig — ahem, set up — the event to create a final showdown between Judge and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, well, those two rookies might save the sport all by themselves.
From a Yankees perspective, however, there is a small potential downside, that Judge could get too homer-happy in that hyperactive environment and do some harm to himself that lingers into the second half. While rare, such an affliction is not unprecedented.
The most well-known case involved the Phillies’ Bobby Abreu, who hit 41 home runs in the 2005 Derby and then saw a serious dip in his power production in the second half. Abreu entered the break with 18 homers in 397 plate appearances, or one every 22.06, then had six in 322 plate appearances afterward, for a rate of one in 53.67.
The Mets’ David Wright took a similar dive after the ’06 Derby, in which he launched 16 home runs in the first round and 22 overall before losing to Ryan Howard. Wright went from 20 homers in 386 plate appearances (one per 19.3 PAs) in the first half to six in 275 (one per 45.83 PAs) after the break.
After seeing the Judge Effect daily during batting practice, we get the sense he likely is immune to that. It’s simple: He doesn’t have to do anything extraordinary to hit home runs. When he exerts that amount of force on a baseball, that’s just what happens. And Monday night should be a familiar routine for him, with the usual spectacular results.
“It’s just another round of BP, but in front of 50,000 people,” Judge said.
Brian Cashman doesn’t have a problem with Judge destroying baseballs down in Miami despite the marginal risk — “You just got to let it go,” he said — and Joe Girardi believes there’s no reason to fret, based on what the manager has witnessed from him so far. “I don’t think it will be too hard for him to keep his approach,” Girardi said. “He’s a very disciplined kid.”
And a very valuable one to an ever-expanding audience that is in for quite a thrill Monday night.