By Sweeny Murti
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We are already counting home runs and documenting batting practice with more fervor than anything else that usually happens at spring training. The Yankees are opening the gates early this spring so fans can watch the show, and it won’t surprise anybody when they announce the same thing for regular season games in the Bronx.
The BP show is easy to get behind. It usually is immensely entertaining, even to the other players who rarely seem wowed by anything that happens in practice. Like Allen Iverson said, “We’re not talking about a game, we’re talking about practice!”
The real question: How realistic is it to push those expectations to the regular season? Are we really going to throw the Mantle and Maris comparisons on Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge?
I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to oohing and aahing at the possibilities, but I also feel the need to pump the brakes and throw a little reality on the situation.
How many guys have hit 50 home runs in back-to-back seasons without the suspected or admitted aid of performance-enhancing drugs? Only two: Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr.
So we are asking both Judge (52 home runs in 2017) and Stanton (59) to do something that’s been done only twice in the last hundred years. Seems a little much, no?
It doesn’t mean they can’t have highly successful seasons by hitting, say, 39 home runs or 46 home runs. I can think of a parallel in football to make this point better.
In his second year in the NFL, Dan Marino set records by throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns. He played for 15 more seasons and eclipsed 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns only once more. Marino had by every standard one of the greatest careers in the history of pro football. Yet if you are measuring his individual seasons, the best one by far came very early in his career and was never matched again.
Could we be saying that about Judge a decade and a half from now? And Stanton has been in the league for nine years now and is coming off his first 40-plus homer season. Maybe last year represents the high end outlier for Stanton, who averages 44 home runs per 162 games.
Just looking at last year, you can see where certain peaks during the season stretched this duo’s home run totals.
Stanton hit 25 home runs in a 40-game span in 2017, including slamming 11 homers in one 12-game stretch in August. He hit seven home runs in each April, May and June, 12 in July, 18 in August and eight in September.
Judge came out of the gate with 10 in April, seven in May, 10 in June and seven in July. The left shoulder clearly bothered him in August, when he hit only three home runs before something (a cortisone shot?) fueled his big finish with 15 homers in September.
Games played is the number to watch. Judge played through a shoulder injury that was bad enough to require offseason surgery. Under different circumstances a year ago, the Yankees might have tried putting him on the DL rather than trying to have him play through the injury. And Stanton played in a career-high 159 games last season, marking only the third time in eight years he played more than 140 games.
Both of these sluggers are feared by opposing pitchers for good reason. Both of them are expected to provide fireworks in BP and big numbers in the regular season. Of course, both of them are capable of putting up the monstrous numbers we are talking about. But it seems like tempering expectations just a bit might be more in order.
Asking Judge and Stanton to repeat extraordinary seasons when history isn’t on their side is a bit unrealistic. Yes, batting practices will be outrageous fun. Yes, if they stay healthy they will put up big numbers. But asking them to keep climbing the ladder to 60 home runs and beyond is something that should be checked at the door. If for no other reason than this: It is really hard to do.
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