Aaron Judge took to the R2C2 Player’s Tribune podcast on Wednesday to discuss his future plans for the Home Run Derby, which he won in thrilling fashion last summer. Turns out, there are no future plans for Judge, as he has decided to be a ‘one-and-done’ with the Derby, electing to walk away from the event while still at the top.
Judge’s decision comes as a disappointing one for baseball as a whole, given how successful the Derby was last season, and how Judge has emerged as the new home run face of baseball, thanks to his towering moonshots that were clanging of the roof of Marlins Park last July. Of course, the MLB will likely press the issue to Judge as the event nears, knowing how valuable he is to viewership and for the quality of the Derby. For now, it seems like Judge isn’t going to make the trip.
Usually, a decision like this unlocks an opportunity for many to attack the Derby, stating its unnecessary injury risk for players who should be more focused on winning when the stakes really matter. The truth is, the Home Run Derby does matter. In a sport trying to reach new audiences and expand viewership, the Home Run Derby is an opportunity for baseball to showcase its excitement in the middle of summer when none of the other major sports are in action, aside from some NBA free agency discussions. Baseball needs the Home Run Derby, and Judge’s decision to sit the next one out shouldn’t be used as another opportunity to petition for no Yankees to take part in it.
Of course, the main argument will be Judge’s numbers leading into the Derby and immediately following. Heading into the Derby, Judge had clubbed 30 homers while posting an absurd 1.139 OPS. In the two months after, Judge hit 14 homers with a .797 OPS (and eventually came alive with a monster September). It’s hard to look at the numbers without at least addressing the Derby as a potential catalyst for Judge’s significant decline in production.
The big question is whether Judge’s often talked-about shoulder injury was a direct result of the home run derby, and the subsequent drop in production. After saying he would not participate in the Derby this summer, Judge declined to say if the shoulder was hurt while he was mashing homers in Miami.
Judge said “the Derby didn’t really have an effect” on his 2nd half, but asked another way if the Derby is what hurt his shoulder Judge replied “I’d rather not say.”— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) March 8, 2018
Whether Judge hurt his shoulder during the Derby or not, it shouldn’t be a platform to bash the Derby itself, especially when we saw the benefits of the event last season in terms of the league as a whole.
Injuries happen. It’s part of the sport. Baseball cannot rid itself of every event where injuries are a risk, or else there would be no baseball left. Yankees fans saw Derek Jeter go down with a broken ankle in the middle of a thrilling ALCS game in the Bronx in 2012. Should baseball go back to their old format and only have a World Series? Of course not. The expanded postseason offers more games, more thrilling moments and more viewership. The Derby is also a beneficial expansion of the game that brings in more eyes to the game of baseball.
Wherever there has been a story like Judge after the Derby, there have been multiple stories of success. The two Yankees to win the Derby before Judge were Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi. Cano won in 2011, when he entered the event with an .863 OPS and a 129 wRC+. The second baseman would raise those numbers to .905 and 138 in the second half of the season. Giambi saw increases in both departments as well after winning the Derby. In short, the Home Run Derby is not evil. Things happen, and hiding everyone from an event that is good for the game isn’t a practical solution.
It’s Judge’s decision to sit out the Derby, and it should be respected. Maybe at some point down the road, he will make a return. Whether he does or not, his decision shouldn’t serve as a confirmation that nobody in postseason contention should participate. Both Cano and Giambi were on World Series-caliber teams when they won the event, and they turned out just fine. Judge has decided that he doesn’t need another Home Run Derby trophy this season, but baseball still needs the Home Run Derby. The event should be celebrated, not ridiculed.