By Sweeny Murti
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It’s not because of the Home Run Derby. It’s not.
Aaron Judge went 1-for-18 this weekend in the Yankees’ first series after the All-Star break. The Home Run Derby champ was held to a measly single that went about 25 feet with an exit velo so low you could peddle a bike faster.
OK, so Judge came out of the break and hit a slump. It’s a slump. And it’s not the Home Run Derby’s fault. I promise you. Even Tino Martinez agrees with me.
“We all just get a little more tired in the second half,” Tino told me Sunday night. “And the pitchers tend to be a little more careful with you down the stretch. So Aaron is going to have to understand that they are not going to let him beat them depending on how the guy behind him is hitting.”
Tino is part of the anecdotal evidence etched in Home Run Derby lore that says he suffered in the second half after winning the Derby in 1997. In reality, Tino had a good second half. It just wasn’t as great as his first half.
Before the break in 1997, Tino batted .302/370/.619 in 85 games with 28 home runs in 331 at-bats (one HR every 11.8 ABs).
After the break in ‘97, Tino batted .289/.372/.525 in 73 games with 16 home runs in 263 at-bats (one HR every 16.4 ABs). That’s a good second half. He slugged over .525 in a full season only twice in his 16-year career.
Let’s keep in mind Tino’s career numbers were .271/.344/.471 with 339 home runs in 7,711 at-bats (one HR every 22.7 ABs).
Don’t we think it’s possible that Martinez had the most outrageously hot three months of his entire life to start the 1997 season before being merely good in the second half? All those second-half averages are significantly better than his career marks.
There was indeed a steep dropoff in the final month of that season when Tino hit just .247/.312/.383 with three home runs after Sept. 1, but that speaks more to his comment about being tired and perhaps pitched differently — or simply having a slump — as opposed to having gotten out of his swing because of the Home Run Derby.
Judge’s Derby performance by the numbers should actually tell you that he didn’t get out of his swing. Of his 47 home runs in the competition, he smashed 23 to the opposite field.
Reggie Jackson hit 37 home runs before the All-Star break in 1969 and finished the year with 47. I’m sure he would love to blame the Home Run Derby, but it wasn’t even around in 1969. Jackson told me at Old Timer’s Day last month that he started to chase more pitches out of the zone and was too young at 23 to recognize and handle the pressure better.
That said, it’s a good time to remind you that Judge is a rookie. He has already had the best rookie season in Yankees history. We should expect him to struggle a little. We should expect teams to try to get him to chase more, get him to hit more balls off the end of the bat or on the hands instead of what we saw in the first half when he barreled up everything in his path. His first-half BABIP of .426 defies all logic, signaling that every ball he hits is square and hard and nearly impossible to catch.
It’s okay if Judge comes back to earth a little bit. He still can have a good second half that isn’t as historic as his first half and we can still say he had a great year. He could also get hot very soon and crank that machine back up again. And if that happens, we can start oohing and aahing again. For now, can we please just remember how hard it is to put together a good week, a good month, a good season at the big league level. Especially when you are a rookie.
And maybe, just maybe, we could have slept better on Sunday night if Jackie Bradley, Jr. hadn’t kept Judge from being 2-for-18 with a home run.
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN