Marketing the Yankees’ present with the past and the future

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

With the New York Yankees brand, the past is always present. But should the future take precedent?

Early in this season, the Yankees’ marketing near the stadium has brought the team’s historic past to the forefront. After two seasons where the souvenir cups featured current players, the new cups contain a smattering of World Series logos. Ads at the subway stops near Yankee Stadium highlight the 27 championships. Furthermore, the team has begun selling stadium-exclusive hats corresponding to each World Series win with unique details for each era.

When you think about the Yankees’ brand over the years, this makes a lot of sense. The brand has always been built upon a winning atmosphere. With a ridiculous number of championships has come an overwhelming number of fans scattered across the country but concentrated especially in New York. There is little doubt which is the No. 1 baseball team in the hearts of most New Yorkers.

And diehard fans identify with this sense of winning. They even demand it. They come to the park both due to a connection to the past and an expectation the current product will live up to the established expectations. But the diehard fans make up the 25-30 thousand spectators that will come to the park rain or shine, win or lose, championship or no.

So at least part of any marketing campaign each season needs to be focused on how to bring in the casual fan. The one who could live with themselves if they don’t make it to Yankee Stadium each year, let alone every month or game. Beyond simply going to the stadium, these are the fans that may only follow and watch the team a little, paying extra attention if the team is winning.

Does an appeal to a past filled with winning work on these casual fans? This, after all, is what the brand already is, so you’re emphasizing what you already have and not extending the brand. That isn’t a bad thing. Extending a brand further can dilute it and the accentuation on championships makes plenty of sense from a marketing perspective. However, I don’t know if this brings that extra 10-20K to the stadium. This is because I am a Yankees and baseball junkie and far from a casual fan.

The way I tried thinking about this was from the perspective of a Yankee fan considering a trip to Citi Field. I am not a Mets fan by any means, but if I’m in the city and the Mets are the only game in town, I’ll certainly consider it. I don’t think an appeal to the Mets’ past would get me to the stadium, but they don’t have the same past as the Yankees, making this an unfair comparison. A general Mets advertisement would make me consider the ride to Citi Field when I otherwise wasn’t considering it, but I would need something more to get me there.

In the recent past, that something extra has been the Mets’ pitching. I can say definitively that I went to Citi Field with the express purpose of seeing Matt Harvey in 2015. By that time, he was no longer a rookie or burgeoning star but a more established part of the team well into his third big league season.

But my trip to see Harvey made me think that maybe a marketing push around exciting young talent could work better than an appeal to nostalgia.

The Yankees don’t have the established talent of the Mets’ rotation right now or the flashy everyday veteran star of a Yoenis Cespedes. What they do have is some of the most exciting young position players who could potentially man the middle of the lineup for the next decade. For a baseball fan, that’s an exciting proposition. For a Yankee fan, even a casual one, that should be even more appealing, the chance to ostensibly get in on the ground floor of a new Yankee evolution.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

So a marketing push behind, let’s say, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird could set you up for the future. The team already utilizes their breakout potential in some YES ads and it’s not like they’re absent from the Yankees’ marketing materials. However, if you further establish the star power of those young players, it can help you down the road if they’re everything they’re made up to be. It would create a connection with fans, including the non-consistent ballpark goers, that you can play off of for years. It could potentially be the same as connecting fans with Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter in 1996 and riding that all the way to 2014 and beyond.

But this can really backfire, too. I go back to the Harvey example. He was dreadful last year and that can create a bad taste in fan’s mouths. Or what about the ill-fated Dan & Dave Reebok commercials from before the 1992 Olympics. Relying on unestablished athletes can blow up in your face. What if the first baseman you’re advertising heavily starts the year 1 for 20? Or your catcher of the future injures his arm and is out for a month? Not many people are going to be excited about a cup or t-shirt of a player who appears to be a marginal talent.

So there are easy reasons not to go all-in on the youth movement. The risk is high despite the potential reward and the possible reality that youth talent may bring more casual fans to the park. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a near future with a slightly more than life-sized billboard of Aaron Judge dominating Time’s Square. With the dad jokes aside, the future of Yankees’ marketing seems to be on the current team, but the past may be the best present for now.

Yankeemetrics: Whiteout in the Bronx (April 17-19)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Judge and The Mick
The White Sox were the latest team to try and slow down the Yankees juggernaut, a feat that seemed improbable based on their recent struggles at the House That Jeter Built.

The White Sox entered this series with a 7-20 record at the new Yankee Stadium, the second-worst win percentage (.259) by any American League team (only the Angels, 8-24, were worse). The Yankees made sure they didn’t improve that mark on Monday with a 7-4 win in the series opener.

Matt Holliday broke the game open with a monster three-run, 459-foot home run in the third inning. It was the fourth-longest homer by any Yankee in the Statcast era (since 2015), behind three homers by A-Rod in 2015. With an exit velocity of 113.9 mph, it was also the third-hardest hit homer in that span behind an A-Bomb in 2015 (116.5) and an Aaron Judge blast last year (115.2).

Judge joined the powerball party in the fifth inning, extending the lead to 7-0 with his fourth home run of the season. He’s just the second Yankee outfielder under the age of 25 to hit four homers within the team’s first 13 games. The other? Oh, just some guy named Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Jordan Montgomery picked up his first major-league win, showing the same toughness and poise he displayed last week during his debut, pitching out of jams in the first and sixth innings. Overall this season, he’s allowed just one hit in 10 at-bats (.100) and struck out four batters with runners in scoring position.

Adam Warren relieved Montgomery, and kept his Hidden Perfect Game intact until he walked Tyler Saladino with two outs, snapping a streak of 22 straight batters retired to start the season.

Warren is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to not allow a baserunner in any of his first four appearances, while retiring more than 10 batters during the streak (Warren set down 20 batters in a row during his first four games).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Eight is Enough
All good things must come to an end … Thanks to an anemic showing by the Yankee offense and an unexpected masterful performance by White Sox journeyman pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, the Yankees lost their first game since April 8 and suffered their first home loss of the season.

The Yankees eight-game win streak was tied for their second-longest in April in franchise history, bettered only by a 10-gamer in 1987. And their 7-0 start at Yankee Stadium was just the sixth time they had won their first seven home games; the good news is that of the previous five seasons it happened (1943, 1949, 1951, 1987, 1998), four ended with the Yankees hoisting a World Series trophy.

Gonzalez held the Yankees to just four infield singles and one run in his 8 1/3 innings of work on a frosty night in the Bronx. How unlikely was this standout performance?

He had been winless in his previous 18 road starts entering the game, which was the longest active streak among major-league pitchers. And it had been over three decades since a White Sox pitcher allowed one-run-or-fewer and four-hits-or-fewer in an outing of more than eight innings at Yankee Stadium: Neil Allen was the last to do it, tossing a two-hit, no-strikeout (!) shutout in July 1986.

Luis Severino‘s final line (four runs allowed) underscored the dominance he showed in striking out 10 guys, including six with his devastating slider. Overall, the pitch has been a key weapon for him this season: of the 31 two-strike sliders he’s thrown, 13 have resulted in strikeouts, good for a 41.9 percent slider “putaway rate” that ranks second behind only Noah Syndergaard (43.5%) among starters.

Coupled with his 11-strikeout game in his previous start, Severino became the youngest Yankee with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games since lefty Al Downing in 1963. Even more impressive is this golden nugget:

At the age of 23 years and 57 days, Severino is the youngest pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

A new win streak
Death, taxes … and the Yankees beating the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. Three things you can pretty much count on these days. With their 9-1 victory in the rubber game on Wednesday night, the Yankees are now unbeaten (10-0-2) in their last 12 home series against the White Sox. The last time they lost a series in the Bronx to the Pale Hose was Aug. 8-10, 2005.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have ace-like stuff but still delivered his best performance of the season, limiting the White Sox to one run on six hits in seven innings. He’s now won six straight home starts dating back to last season, setting a record at the new Yankee Stadium. The last Yankee pitcher to win six starts in a row at home was Chien-Ming Wang in 2006.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things once again, crushing a towering homer into to the left field bleachers in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 8-1 lead. The absolute bomb went an estimated 448 feet and left his bat at 115.5 mph. His assault on the Statcast record books continues unabated:

  • The distance of 448 feet is a career-high for Judge, and is the third-longest homer at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era (since 2015).
  • The exit velocity of 115.5 mph makes it the hardest-hit homer by any player at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era.
  • Judge now has six batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph in pinstripes; since 2015, all other Yankees have combined to hit three batted balls with an exit velocity of 115-plus mph.

Thoughts before the Yankees begin a six-game road trip

5-foot-11, 6-foot-1, 6-foot-7. (Presswire)
5-foot-11, 6-foot-1, 6-foot-7. (Presswire)

The Yankees wrapped up a wildly successful 8-1 homestand last night, and they’ll now go out on the road for a six-game trip through Pittsburgh and Boston. But first: an off-day. There’s no Yankees game today. Lame! This team is mighty fun to watch, isn’t it? Anyway, I have thoughts on stuff.

1. There is noticeably more energy at Yankee Stadium this year. Maybe it’s just general “hey baseball is back hooray” early season enthusiasm, but I went to plenty of April home games last year and the year before and the two years before that, and the atmosphere was not close to what it was during the homestand. At first I thought it was just the fans getting into Michael Pineda chasing perfection in the home opener, but no, the energy has stuck. It’s been pretty cool. The new center field landing areas are packed each night and that seems to help. There’s more people moving around and more noise in general. There’s also been some changes to the between innings entertainment — the Subway Race is gone (wtf?!?) and so is Cotton Eye Joey (woo!) — that, if nothing else, has brought some fresh content. The between innings entertainment at Yankee Stadium went stale a long time ago. I’m sure things will cool down as the season progresses and we get into the dog days, but right now, fans definitely seem to be into this new young Yankees team. The ballpark has been much livelier than it was the past few Aprils. (Now please do something about those damn security lines, Yankees. Too many people are missing the start of the game because they’re stuck waiting on line outside.)

2. I mentioned this yesterday, but Luis Severino appears to be much more confident on the mound this year. He’s getting the ball, throwing it with conviction, and attacking hitters. That wasn’t the case last year. The same seems to be true with Pineda. In the past he had a tendency to wander around the mound a bit and get fidgety. Pineda’s body language has always been … interesting. That’s a good word. Interesting. Anyway, there’s no real way to measure a pitcher’s confidence, but we can measure his pace on the mound thanks to PitchFX and Trackman. The numbers show Severino and Pineda are indeed working quicker this year:

2016 Severino: 21.7 seconds between pitches (as a starter only)
2017 Severino: 19.5 seconds

2016 Pineda: 23.8 seconds
2017 Pineda: 22.7 seconds

Furthermore, CC Sabathia has trimmed his pace from 24.8 seconds between pitches last year to 23.0 seconds this year. (The MLB average is 24.0 seconds.) According to man of the people Lucas Apostoleris, Severino (-2.2 seconds) and Sabathia (-1.8 seconds) have the two largest pace drops in baseball from last year to this year. No one has cut more time between pitches than those two. Pineda isn’t far behind either at -1.1 seconds. (Masahiro Tanaka is at +0.2 seconds.) Could this be part of a team-wide emphasis on working quickly — the Yankees as a team went from 24.0 seconds last year to 23.4 seconds so far this year — or is this just three starting pitchers pitching well and feeling confident? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter right now. Pace is not necessarily a proxy for confidence, though having watched Severino and Pineda so far this year, they do seem to be much more confident and aggressive, and I think that can lead to working quicker on the mound.

3. Dellin Betances made a pickoff throw to first base the other day! Friday night, specifically. The Yankees had a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning. Matt Adams was at the plate and Stephen Piscotty, who went 7-for-12 (58%) in stolen base attempts last year, was on first base. Here’s the pickoff throw:

dellin-betances-pickoff

That’s an honest-to-goodness pickoff throw with some velocity on it. Not some sort of half-baked lob you usually see from pitchers who have trouble throwing to the bases, like Jon Lester. No, that throw was not particularly close to actually picking the runner off first, but that’s not really the point. Betances forced Piscotty to dive back into first base and he put it in his head that yes, he will throw over. That’s something Dellin didn’t do at all last year. Runners knew they could take a great big lead against him and run on his first move, because he wasn’t throwing over to first. He was going to the plate. Betances worked on his defense over the winter — not just his pickoff throws, also making plays on weak grounders hit back at him — and we’re seeing some results. Two Saturdays ago a runner was thrown out trying to steal against Betances for the first time since September 1st, 2015. That was 23 steal attempts ago. (Austin Romine was behind the plate too, not Gary Sanchez and his rocket arm.) Holding runners is a clear weakness for Dellin and he worked on it during the offseason. He’s holding runners a little better and he actually made a pickoff throw. It’s not much, but it is progress.

4. The whole Chris Carter thing isn’t really working out. I understand why the Yankees signed him given the cost and uncertainty surrounding post-shoulder surgery Greg Bird, but he’s sort of a square peg in a round hole on the bench. Bird is going to play and play a lot, and because Carter is a first baseman/designated hitter only, there’s no other way to get him in lineup. He can pinch-hit and that’s really it. Carter is 4-for-26 (.154) with eight strikeouts thus far and I wonder whether steering clear of contact challenged bench players would be the smart move going forward. It can be tough to keep your timing down while playing sparingly, and that problem could be exacerbated by having difficulty making contact in the first place. Garrett Jones, a similar player to Carter, didn’t work out in 2014. Andruw Jones figured out how to thrive as a part-timer later in his career when he was swinging and missing a bunch, but Jones was a Hall of Fame caliber talent, and I think he’s an outlier. I guess we have to consider these things on a case-by-case basis. Jones and Carter were regulars before they joined the Yankees and had their roles reduced, so perhaps that explains why they didn’t hit in pinstripes. Even with limited playing time, I figured Carter would have already run into a home run by this point of the season. Instead he’s flailing at pitches off the plate and popping up the pitches he should crush.

5. The Yankees just put together an eight-game winning streak and have won nine of their last ten games overall, and the schedule may have had something to do with it. The Rays, Cardinals, and White Sox aren’t very good — the Rays and Cardinals sure seem to be mistake prone this year, and the White Sox are rebuilding — so the Yankees are beating up on some bad teams. I’ve seen that bandied about a little bit the past few days. Two things about that. One, you can only play the teams on your schedule. Two, one of the many reasons the Yankees missed the postseason three times in the last four years was their inability to beat the teams they were “supposed” to beat. They went 3-7 against three crummy NL West teams last year (Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks). In 2014 they went 2-4 against the 70-92 Astros and 8-11 against the 77-85 Rays. In 2013 they went 0-4 against the 74-88 Mets. The Yankees had a way of playing down to their competition. They trailed in five games during the eight-game winning streak, yet they managed to come back and win partly because the other team made mistakes, and they took advantage. The Yankees had problems doing that in the past.

6. Aaron Judge‘s third inning ground out last night was his 130th career big league at-bat, meaning he is no longer rookie eligible. (He can still win Rookie of the Year this year.) He is only the fourth player drafted by the Yankees in the first round to exhaust his rookie eligibility in pinstripes since Derek Jeter. Judge, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy. That’s the list. (Eric Milton and Brian Buchanan were first round picks by the Yankees who eclipsed the rookie limits with the Twins after being part of the Chuck Knoblauch trade.) Judge and Buchanan are the only position players drafted by the Yankees in the first round who managed to reach 130 big league at-bats since Jeter. That is pretty nuts. A combination of things (bad drafting, bad development, bad luck) have resulting in the Yankees having little success with their first round picks the last two and a half decades, though I should note part of that is forfeiting picks to sign free agents and never being bad enough to have a top ten pick. But still. You’ve got to hit on more first rounders than that. Hopefully Judge represents the start of the sea change. The financial playing field has been leveled over the years, making those high draft picks more important than ever.

Tanaka solid, offense blasts four home runs to beat the White Sox 9-1

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

I’m still in the high from that ridiculous Aaron Judge home run. But anyways, the formula was simple for this win — good pitching and good hitting got it done. Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have his best stuff but he grinded out a nice 7 IP, 1 ER outing while the offense hit four out of the park en route to a 9-1 victory.

Welcome to the gun show

Unlike last night, the Yankee bats raked from the beginning. Brett Gardner began the bottom of first with a double and Chase Headley followed it up with a casual, 426-feet two-run home run. How hot is Headley right now? Sure, that was the only hit he had tonight (bust!) but he’s hitting an unreal .396/.500/.646 in 58 PA in 2017. I don’t know when WAR gets updated on Fangraphs, but I’d imagine he’s close to the top.

While that was all for the first inning, the beat went on in the second. Aaron Judge led off with a single and Bird hit a double into left-center to make it runners on second and third. Austin Romine, who came into the game hitting .333/.414/.542, squibbed a single up to the middle to drive Judge in. Ronald Torreyes followed it up with an RBI ground out to make it 4-0 Yankees.

For the next two innings, the Yankee bats went quiet against 2010 1st round draft pick Dylan Covey. The bottom of fifth started unceremoniously as Gardner struck out and Headley grounded out to make it two quick outs. However, Matt Holliday and Jacoby Ellsbury hit back-to-back singles to give Starlin Castro something to work with. And boy, Castro worked it alright. He hit a three-run home run into the visitor’s bullpen to give New York at 7-1 lead.

Two pitches after Castro’s home run, Judge put a charge on a hanging breaking ball and, well, destroyed it. Just watch:

Per Baseball Savant, that home run traveled for 448 ft with an exit velocity of 115.5 mph. I wouldn’t be surprised if that actually traveled further. That distance is A-Rod territory right there. At some point in his career, Judge will probably outdo that home run, which is exciting to think about. Oh yeah, that home run put the Yankees to a 8-1 lead and Covey exited after the frame ended.

Joining the dinger party later on was Aaron Hicks. As a pinch-hitter, against the tall righty Michael Ynoa (who I vividly remember as the top 2008 IFA signee), Hicks lined one just over the short porch for a solo home run. That was as cheap as a Yankee Stadium cheapie could get but hey, I’ve said it before: you play at the Yankee Stadium, you play by Yankee Stadium rules. Hicks’ hot bat probably caught your attention as well. The man is hitting .296/.444/.778 after tonight, which is quite Giambi-in-prime-esque.

#TANAK

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Tanaka’s final line is as follows: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K. Looks like a pretty swell start, right? It was not as easy as the numbers suggest. He had runners in scoring position three out of those seven innings and, to the White Sox hitters’ credit, they squared up the balls well at times, especially Jose Abreu, who had three hits off Tanaka tonight (including two doubles). However, Tanaka remained cool and calm and got out of the jams mostly unscathed. The only major blemish was the RBI double allowed to Abreu in the fourth inning to score Tim Anderson, which was the only run Chicago scored tonight.

Brooks Baseball had Tanaka’s fastball velocity as usual (topping out at 93.5 instead of going up to 96-97 like we saw in past two starts) and indicated that his splitter was working tonight. He got eight whiffs out of that pitch (29.6% rate). I mean look, how can you throw it any better than he did it right here?

After tonight’s start, Tanaka’s ERA sunk from 8.36 to 6.00. Regression to normalcy! The first few starts were not ideal but he will be just fine.

Leftovers

Bryan Mitchell came in to relieve Tanaka to start the eighth inning and pitched 1.1 scoreless innings. It is also his 26th birthday so, happy birthday to that guy. Tommy Layne came in the ninth with one out to get some work in and got the last two to close it out.

Tonight was one of those games where it just clicked well for the offense — each hitter in the starting lineup got a hit. I’ll take games like this any day.

Box score, WPA graph and standings

Here’s tonight’s box score and updated standings from ESPN and WPA graph from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees have a day-off tomorrow and will travel to Pittsburgh for a weekend series vs. the Pirates. New York is now 10-5 after a 9-1 homestand. Time to get the beat going on the road.

DotF: Refsnyder homers in Scranton’s blowout win

In addition to hitting that monster home run, RF Aaron Judge also recorded his 130th big league at-bat tonight, meaning he is no longer rookie eligible. His days as a prospect are over. 3B Dermis Garcia moved into MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list as a result. Here is one more note and one link to pass along:

  • SS Gleyber Torres went for tests today and has been diagnosed with mild right rotator cuff tendinitis, the Yankees announced. He’s not expected to miss much time. Gleyber has been placed on the Double-A Trenton seven-day disabled list and IF Abi Avelino was called up from High-A Tampa to take his roster spot. Torres was scratched from last night’s game with what was called biceps tendinitis. The Yankees will play it safe with their top prospect, I’m sure.
  • Matt Eddy has an interesting breakdown of the youngest farm systems in baseball. The Yankees have the seventh youngest system with an average age of 23.99 years, though that only covers the four full season affiliates. The Yankees have a ton of talented teenagers in rookie ball.

Triple-A Scranton (10-3 win over Louisville)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB
  • RF Clint Frazier: 0-5, 4 K — his strikeout rate went from 16.7% to 23.4% in one night
  • LF Dustin Fowler: 1-4, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi: 3-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, 1 K — quietly hitting .375/.450/.406 thus far
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB — first homer of the year and he is now halfway to last year’s total
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 R, 2 RBI
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 47 of 76 pitches were strikes (62%) … he spent the last two seasons in Trenton, and now he figures to get an extended opportunity here with RHP Johnny Barbato traded and LHP Dietrich Enns hurt
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K — 15 of 24 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Game 15: Time to start a new winning streak

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

All good things must come to an end, and last night the Yankees saw their eight-game winning streak end with a bit of a whimper. They were bound to lose at some point. That’s fine. It happens. The important thing is making sure one loss doesn’t spiral into a losing streak. Beat the White Sox tonight, get the series win, then go out on the road and start another winning streak.

Tonight’s starter, Masahiro Tanaka, showed some signs of rounding back into form last time out, and it sure would be cool to see him get all the way back on track tonight. The rotation has been pretty excellent the last week and a half. Tanaka being Tanaka would make me a feel much better about the pitching staff going forward. I like what I’ve seen from Michael Pineda and Luis Severino of late, but I’m not buying in all the way just yet. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Pretty yucky weather in New York today. It’s cold, cloudy, and windy, and there’s a whole bunch of rain in the forecast. The internet says the heavy stuff won’t arrive until 9pm ET or so, but once it starts, it’s not supposed to stop until the middle of tomorrow morning. So play fast and make sure you have the lead after five innings tonight, fellas. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. First WPIX game of the season, right? I think so. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Gary Sanchez (biceps) played catch and swung a bat two-handed for the first time today. He made 25 tosses from 50-75 feet and also took 25 dry swings. Joe Girardi said Sanchez has been catching five or six inning simulated games from a pitching machine as well.

Aaron Judge is open to participating in the Home Run Derby and MLB should want him there

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

I don’t know about you, but Aaron Judge has very quickly become one of my favorite players on the Yankees. He’s so fun to watch because he’s such an extreme outlier. Baseball players aren’t supposed to be that big, and baseball players who are that big aren’t supposed to be such good athletes and runners. We’ve seen Judge save some runs in right field and beat out infield singles already this season.

And, of course, there are the home runs. They’re why everyone loves Judge. His four home runs have averaged a healthy 399 feet, and according to Statcast, Judge is responsible for five of the 14 hardest hit balls in baseball this season, including two of the top three. The ball just explodes off his bat. Judge has all the power you’d expect from a guy listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds.

Given his early season exploits, folks are already starting to wonder whether Judge will participate in the Home Run Derby this summer. It makes sense, right? Put the big guy capable of hitting long home runs in the event dedicated to big guys hitting long home runs. Randy Miller asked Judge about the Home Run Derby earlier this week. Here’s his response:

“The Home Run Derby is awesome. It’s a fun event to watch and I’d probably do it if they asked me,” said Judge. “No (I’m not worried about screwing up my swing). I’ve been in them before and I just take my normal swing that I do in batting practice and hopefully it would all work out. I’d just go out there and have fun. I wouldn’t change anything. But it would be a fun thing to do.”

Judge’s batting practices are already the stuff of legend. YES has shown clips of Judge hitting balls over the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field and onto the concourse over the last week and a half. I saw him do that with my own eyes before the home opener and was amazed. But it’s normal for him. That’s just something does every day during batting practice. It’s incredible. There’s no doubt he’d be a fun Home Run Derby contestant.


Personally, I’m not worried at all about a potential Home Run Derby hangover effect. There have been several studies showing it isn’t real, like this one and this one. Pick eight players at random and inevitably one or two of them will perform worse in the second half than they did in the first. The same is true of guys who participate in the Home Run Derby. It’s just normal baseball being baseball stuff.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. Judge indicated he’s open to participating in the Home Run Derby this summer and MLB should want him there. For a few reasons too. One, he’s a Yankee! The last Yankee to participate in the Home Run Derby was Robinson Cano in 2013. The Yankees are the most popular team in the sport and one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Put a Yankee in a Home Run Derby and he will attract viewers. No doubt about it.

Two, Judge is an exciting young up-and-coming player. MLB is trying like crazy to cultivate young fans and the single best way to attract new young fans is by showcasing your most exciting players. Judge is a freak and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Put him in the Home Run Derby and people who don’t know much about baseball are going to see him and not be able to take their eyes off him. Everything about him demands your attention.

(That’s also a reason for the Yankees to want Judge in the Home Run Derby. As MLB works to cultivate more young fans, the Yankees want as many of them as possible rooting for their team. Judge mashing dingers in the Home Run Derby would be a great “hey come root for the Yankees” sales pitch.)

And three, the power. At the end of the day, the Home Run Derby is a “hit ball far” competition with some bells and whistles. In a batting practice setting, which is essentially what the Home Run Derby is, few offer as much power as Judge. He’s going to hit the ball a mile and that’s what people want to see. MLB has brought non-All-Stars to the Home Run Derby in recent years just to ensure they showcase their top power hitters. (Giancarlo Stanton won the Home Run Derby last year but was not an All-Star. Todd Frazier also participated in the event as a non-All-Star.)

Judge has some Home Run Derby experience — he won the 2012 College Home Run Derby while at Fresno State — and while doing it at the MLB level is a heck of a lot different than doing it at the college level, he has some sort of Home Run Derby experience. It won’t be completely new to him. MLB (and the Yankees) have a lot to gain by putting Judge in their Home Run Derby and it is absolutely something they should consider when the time comes. An event like this is made for guys like him.