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  • Writer's picturePaul Semendinger

CASE CLOSED: Judge to CF, A Historical Look...

CASE CLOSED: Judge to CF, A Historical Look...

by Paul Semendinger

March 24, 2024

***

In 2024, the Yankees will be taking Aaron Judge, their elite all-star right fielder (with a lingering toe injury and a history of missing games for a variety of injuries), and moving him to centerfield in his age-32 season.


Many agree with this move by the Yankees. Many state that it makes sense to move Aaron Judge to centerfield this year. I have taken the opposite view time and again. Moving Aaron Judge to centerfield in 2024 is a bad idea, foolhearty at best,... disastrous at worse.


I think this is a terrible idea for a host of reasons including, but not limited, to the following:


  • Judge has played the bulk of his career in RF (84.4% of his career playing time as an OF)

  • Judge is at the age when many players move off CF

  • Centerfield is a more demaning position physically than RF

  • Judge has a lingering injury (toe)

  • Judge has had core issues this spring

  • Judge is also injured a lot

  • The Yankees need Judge in the lineup

  • Judge is owed $320m over 8 years

To those who don't believe the toe injury is a big deal, I share the story of baseball great Dizzy Dean (in brief):


From 1932 to 1936, Dizzy Dean went 120-65, 3.04. He won 20 or more games four consecutive seasons. He was 12-7, 2.41 at the All-Star break in 1937. Dean got hit by a ball that broke his toe. He went 1-3, 3.59 the rest of the season. He never even made 20 starts in a season again. From 1938 through 1941, Dizzy Dean won all of 16 games. Dean's immediate and substantial fall from greatness all started with a toe injury.


For those who are still not convinced, let me put the debate to an end.


What the Yankees are trying to do, is extremely rare in the history of baseball. Teams do not often move their star right fielders to centerfield at age 32 or beyond. What the Yankees are doing goes against the collective knowledge and wisdom of the thinkers, managers, teams, and the like across the history of baseball. When you have a great player at a position, it makes little sense to move that person out of the position where he is great and while he is playing at the top of his game. In my research for this article, I found this to be especially true for right fielders.


For proof of this point, I went to the list of the Top Right Fielders in history. I looked at the data about how many of the top right fielders were moved to centerfield at their age-32 season or beyond. The facts spoke clearly - teams simply do not move their great rightfielders to centerfield at that age. The greatest right fielders were never asked nor expected to do this.


Aaron Judge ranks 35th on the list of all-time greatest right fielders. I looked at the careers of each of the 34 right fielders ranked above Aaron Judge all-time. I researched two simple questions in this study:


Did other teams take their great right fielders and try to turn them into centerfielders at age-32 or beyond?


Did any team ever win a pennant by moving the team's star right fielder to centerfield at age-32 or beyond?


My findings proved that the Yankees' plan is foolhearty, at best. The Yankees' plan goes against what teams have done with the greatest right fielders across the entirety of baseball history. Moving a 32-year-old right fielder to centerfield is an approach that was very rarely done and has never been done with a team that won a pennant. Ever. Only one contending team, ever tried this. The only other times this was done were with teams that were under .500 - in other words, it was a despiration move for a team with little to no chance of competitng.


Also no team ever did this with a power hitting right fielder who stands, physically, among the game's giants. The only time this was ever attempted was with smaller players - singles hitters whose games revolved around speed.


Here's a rundown of the players who are ranked above Judge all-time and the amount of games they played in centerfield from age-32 and beyond:


  1. Babe Ruth - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  2. Hank Aaron - Played all of 16 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  3. Stan Musial - Played all of 9 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  4. Mel Ott - Never played CF at age-32 or older

  5. Frank Robinson - Never played CF at age-32 or older

  6. Roberto Clemente - Played all of 2 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  7. Al Kaline - Played all of 4 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  8. Reggie Jackson - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  9. Mookie Betts - He is not yet 32

  10. Harry Heilmann - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  11. Paul Waner - Played all of 4 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  12. Larry Walker - Played all of 2 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  13. Sam Crawford - Played all of 2 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  14. Joe Jackson - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  15. Tony Gwynn - Played all of 5 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  16. Dwight Evans - Played all of 1 game in CF at age 32 and older

  17. Ichiro Suzuki - Played 319 games in CF from age 32 and older. At age-33, he was a starting centerfielder

  18. Reggie Smith - Played 23 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  19. Sammy Sosa - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  20. Dave Winfield - Played all of 16 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  21. Bobby Abreu - Played all of 2 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  22. Vlad Guerrero - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  23. Bobby Bonds - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  24. Gary Sheffield - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  25. Enos Slaughter - Played all of 1 game in CF at age 32 and older

  26. Elmer Flick - Played all of 13 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  27. Willie Keeler - Played all of 1 game in CF at age 32 and older

  28. Brian Giles - Played 36 total games in CF at age 32 and older

  29. Chuck Klein - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  30. Sam Rice - He played 326 games in CF from age 32 and older. He was a starting CF at age 32, but never started there again

  31. Jack Clark - Never played CF at age 32 or older

  32. Kiki Cuyler - Played 613 games in CF from age 32 and older. He started in CF at age 35

  33. Bryce Harper - He is not yet 32

  34. Harry Hooper - Never played CF at age 32 or older


***

And that's that.


For the record, I also checked the historical fielding records for the remainder of the Top 50 right fielders of all time. None of the rest ever became a starting centerfielder at age-32 or beyond. (To be fair, there were a few players, from the game's earliest days where specific outfield positions were not listed. Readers are encouraged to check the records themselevs on all of this.)


The facts speak for themselves. Of the 50 greatest right fielders of all-time, only three were ever moved to play centerfield at age-32 or beyond.


Ichiro did it. Sam Rice did it. And Kiki Cuyler did it. Three players. But of note, none of those three were able to sustain playing as a starter in centerfield for more than one season (which seems to be strong evidence that the plan to move them there did not work).


Also of important note, Sam Rice, Kiki Cuyler, and Ichiro were very different players than Aaron Judge. These were smaller players who relied on speed and were not power hitters. Of note:


Kiki Cuyler was 5 feet, 10 inches. His playing weight was 180 pounds.


Sam Rice was 5 feet, 9 inches. His playing weight was 150 pounds.


Ichiro Suzuki is 5 feet, 11 inches. His playing weight was 175 pounds.


Aaron Judge is 6 feet, 7 inches. His playing weight is 282 pounds.


Regarding styles of play:


Kiki Cuyler averaged 11 home runs per 162 games in his career.

Sam Rice averaged 2 home runs per 162 games in his career.


Ichiro Suzuki averaged 7 home runs per 162 games in his career.


Aaron Judge averages 50 home runs per 162 games so far in his career.


More:


Kiki Cuyler (.321), Sam Rice (.322), and Ichiro Suzuki (.311) were high average hitters. Aaron Judge (.282), not so much.


And:


Kiki Cuyler stole 328 bases in his career. He led the league in steals four times. He stole 20 or more bases in a season 7 times.


Sam Rice stole 351 bases in his career. He led the league in steals once. He stole 20 or more bases in a season 9 times.


Ichiro Suzuki stole 509 bases in his career. He led the league in steals once. He stole 20 or more bases in a season 13 times.


Aaron Judge has 43 stolen bases in the entirety of his career. He has never stolen 20 bases in a season. Judge's high was 16.


All of this to say, very clearly, Aaron Judge is a completely different player than Cuyler, Rice, and Suzuki in style, approach, and body size.


Some Additional Notes:


When Ichiro did it, in 2006, the Seattle Mariners played to a record of 78-84. They finished in 4th place.


When Sam Rice did it, in 1922, the Washington Nationals (not the Senators that year) were 69-85. They finished in 6th place.


When Kiki Cuyler did it, in 1934, the Chicago Cubs played to a record of 86-65 and finished in 3rd place. That was the only team that had a chance of winning that tried this experiment. One contending team in the history of baseball.


***

IN SUMMATION - Historically, teams do not move their great right fielders to centerfield at age-32 or beyond. The very best of the best right fielders were never asked to do that. Only three historically great right fielders, from the Top 50 all-time, played as a starter in centerfield for a season. None of the teams that asked the aging player to move from right field to centerfield won a pennant. None asked that player to play in centerfield for more than one season.


What the Yankees are trying to do by moving their great right fielder to centerfield goes against the collective wisdom across the history of baseball across every era. In addition no physically big player, like Aaron Judge was ever asked to do this.


None of those teams moved a player with a lingering toe injury there.


In addition and obviously, none of the three teams that tried this unsuccessful move were tied to that player with a long term contract for 8 more years and $320 million dollars. This point also can't be overstated. If the added wear and tear of playing centerfield negatively impacts Aaron Judge's health, the impact of his reduced performance could be felt for seven additional seasons after 2024. The long term impact could be devistating to the franchise.


What the Yankees are attempting to do is foolhearty at best. At worst, this could be a complete disaster. History tells us that the Yankees are clearly and absolutely making the wrong decision.


Case closed.


***

A note to all media types, writers, bloggers, podcasters, and etc... THANKS FOR COMING TO START SPREADING THE NEWS! I'm glad you visit the site. If you plan to use the information from this article, it is only right to give credit to the author and this site. Thank you.

52 commentaires


jjw49
25 mars

Many thoughtful comments on Judge to CF but in the end this move will not turn out well IMHO. Judge has 8yrs left on his contract and he will never finish his career as an OF whether it be CF or RF.

J'aime

Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
25 mars

WOW! This article sure brought forth a range of reactions.


I would think that seeing the complete historical record regarding a move the Yankees planned to make would be something that readers would be interested in. I figured if I didn't list all of the players, a person would comment, "Show the data." So I did. And, whether people want to discount the data, it is very compelling and very clear. In the history of baseball, teams do not (often) take their star right fielders, and as they age from age-32 and older, and move them to centerfield. That's very clear. The only times it was done were with three players completely unlike Aaron Judge.


I commented on many of…


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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
25 mars
En réponse à

One of the issues I have with the historical approach is that there has never been anyone closely similar to Aaron Judge -- no player has a similarity score over 900, which IIRC Bill James said means you're dealing with a unique talent. For comparison, with a Mike Gallego, all of the top 10 similars are at 944 or above.


Fun fact: You know who was most similar to Gallego through age 27? Brian Giles, 978.9. Most similar to Aaron Judge through age 31? Brian Giles, 899.6. I picked Gallego out of nowhere for a comparison to an average player -- total surprise to see Giles turned up on both lists!

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Edward Morvitz
Edward Morvitz
25 mars

I am wondering who they could have gotten to play centerfield after they obtained Soto, Verdugo and Grisham. Who was out there who could play centerfield and provide a strong bat. Other than Bellinger, I cant think of anyone.


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jjw49
25 mars
En réponse à

Like you, I strongly advocated for signing Bellinger but as usual Hal said enough is enough so No Bellinger. Yankees have a bad owner who values making money over putting the best product on the field. Sad!!!!!!!

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Edward Morvitz
Edward Morvitz
25 mars

I still think Bellinger would have been a better fit than Soto and he would play centerfield. My reasoning is that he would have solved a few roster issues long term- centerfield and then first base for many years. Yes, Soto is a better hitter, but he will probably be gone after this season. He has given little indication that he prefers the Yankees over the most money. And for sure, other teams will outbid the Yankees.

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cpogo0502
25 mars
En réponse à

Absolutely correct. Soto will want to be the first $500 million player. He'll be gone after this year since Hal will never go there. This is why despite Soto's prowess as a hitter I am adamantly opposed to one-year rentals and Bellinger would have been a better bet and better fit. What was Cashman thinking? Sign Soto and we win the Series this year? This is why the folks on this thread are smarter than the Yankee management. Why can we see things they cannot?

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Chris D.
Chris D.
25 mars

I guess I have to agree, I didn't need the extreme Overkill on the other teams, then players.. on and on who didn't do this... 😕, I myself believe this is Temporary.... Until Dominqez returns, which from what I hear, correction Read, it'll be earlier than expected.!!!,

Then Soto to DH (depending on Stantons stats, injury status), Martian plays Center... This is the primary reason I wanted Bellinger over Verdugo, but Cashman is into saving money in the recent years, I still love Cashman, after One bad season, chock full of injuries, he's done very well with what 25 playoff seasons... Not bad!! I'll take that every year...

C. J. Dederick

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