Perspectives: On Judge Returning
by Paul Semendinger
July 28, 2023
I wrote the first iteration of this piece in the comments the other day. Now that Judge is officially coming back, I expanded on my original thoughts...
The Yankees are about to make a potentially huge mistake that could (and very well may) jeopardize the career of Aaron Judge and severely negatively impact the team's near and not-so-near future.
Even though he is not pain free (in other words, even though he is still injured), and not fully able to play at his elite level, and even though he will have no minor league appearances to get himself into game shape, reports are that the Yankees will activate Aaron Judge for tonight's game against the Baltimore Orioles.
The other day, this is what Aaron Judge stated about how he is feeling physically:
"It's not going to be pain-free... We'll just get as close to manageable as we can.”
Aaron Judge is not pain free and he (and the Yankees) are going to try to make this "as close to manageable" as they can.
As close to manageable as they can? Does that sound good?
I do not understand how the Yankees operate. This makes no sense.
The best case scenario, according to Aaron Judge's own words, is that they will try to make it "manageable."
This is a bad move. The Yankees are going way down the wrong path.
First, Aaron Judge is the Yankees right now. He is their superstar. He is their most valuable player - both in terms on on-field performance and for the team's revenue itself. If Aaron Judge plays, and is not 100% (and no one is saying how close he is to that standard), he is risking (and the Yankees are risking) him reinjuring the toe, making it worse, and/or further delaying the time it will take him to get back to 100%. They are also jeopardizing his long term health. If Aaron Judge is not at his best physically, next year, or in the next years, the Yankees will be a lesser team.
I understand that Aaron Judge at 80% (for example) is more valuable than most players at 100%, but I do not understand risking his future (short and long term) and the future of the franchise (short and long term) to rush him back before he is ready.
The history of sports, both professional and otherwise, is littered with would-be stars who pushed themselves when they were injured and ended up changing the ways they walk, swing, run, move, etc.... We have seen hosts of players over the years fall into bad (and not easily corrected) habits based upon them making allowances for an injury. Is it worth taking this chance with Aaron Judge? I don't believe so.
We also know that when players consciously are aware of an injury, they play more tentatively, they take fewer risks, and they engage slower. I know the Yankees have trouble scoring, but unless Judge hits a home run, a compromised Aaron Judge on the basepaths will not be a good thing. He'll be slow and plodding. If I ran the Yankees, I wouldn't want him running out ground balls hard. I wouldn't want him trying to take the extra base. I wouldn't want him sliding. In addition, it is often when players don't use their natural abilities and when they hold back that... they get injured. A tentative player is a compromised player in many ways. That does not help a team - in any way.
If the Yankees are foolish enough to play him in the outfield, those same concerns arise. More balls will fall for hits. A tentative cautious outfielder is not a good nor effective outfielder. Plus, with an injury to his foot, do the Yankees want him staring and stopping abruptly and continually which are the natural motions of an outfielder? The answer to that, again, has to be no.
If the Yankees keep Judge off the field, but just want him to bat, the problem with having Aaron Judge as the designated hitter is (at least) twofold. First, he'll clog the position. Secondly, without Judge in the outfield, others players, ones who are not good defenders (read: Giancarlo Stanton) will be forced to play the field. Neither of those scenarios help the Yankees.
As part of this whole decision-making, the medical staff of the Yankees, along with the executives overseeing all of this, including Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman, have a terrible history when it comes to evaluating player injuries and making decisions that are in a player's best interests.
The most recent example of this is Jose Trevino who played 3 1/2 months with a wrist so bad it needs surgery. Aaron Boone stated the other day that he was aware of this problem since Spring Training. How could they let him play in that much of a compromised state?
We see this poor decision making with the Yankees time and again.
The Yankees claimed Frankie Montas was okay until... he was out for the season. We have seen numerous players come off the Injured List only to be placed back on the list because they weren't fully healed or ready to return and, as a result, they reinjured themselves.
This same organization who seems to care about load management willingly lets injured players play. These are the same decision makers who sit players who are performing and give players off-days even at the start of the season when they don't need any rest.
The Yankees claim that they have the players' best interests at heart, yet, here they are, bringing back Aaron Judge even though he is still in pain.
This has disaster written all over it.
This is dysfunctional - at best.
According to an article yesterday, Aaron Boone said,
"Judge took four or five at-bats on Tuesday, including a home run. He also ran bases and played five innings of defense, though (he) did not see much activity in the outfield.
“They were hoping to simulate some more action (Wednesday), even if it meant getting fungoes, moving him side to side, getting him on the bases a little bit,” Boone said.
When was the last time a player missed almost two months, had very little rehab work, participated in no minor league games, and practiced game action by catching fungos?
I have played baseball for a long long time. Catching fungos is not nearly the same as actual game action.
As of two days ago, Aaron Judge played in a simulated game for all of five innings. (The Yankees do know that a big league game goes nine innings, correct?)
It seems that the Yankees believe that having Aaron Judge back in the lineup will spur the team into winning. They believe this so much that they are going to rush him back, in pain, and without even playing one full nine inning game, into the lineup.
Last season, as Aaron Judge hit .349/29/61 with a .502 on-base percentage, a .785 slugging percentage and a 1.286 OPS in the season's second half, the Yankees went 35 and 35. In other words, when Aaron Judge was fully healthy, and playing at what will most likely be the best baseball of his entire career, the Yankees were only able to play at a .500 level.
Again, as I have noted in other articles, the Yankees have to know this. If I can figure this out, they must be able to as well. The stats are easily available on baseball-reference. You'd think the Yankees would have this data and more.
The 2022 Yankees were a better club than the 2023 Yankees. The 2023 Yankees are a middle-of-the pack team. They are a long shot to make the Wild Card playoffs, and even a longer shot to win any such series or advance beyond that next playoff round. The 2023 Yankees are not a World Series team. And yet, the better team, with Aaron Judge playing at the highest level could only play .500 ball.
Is any of this worth putting the team's best player at risk? For me the answer is an unequivocable no.
Last season, after the Yankees failed in the playoffs (again), Brian Cashman stated, "The results don't matter. It's about the process and the process is good." (I'm paraphrasing.) He cannot say that this year. This has nothing to do with process.
The Yankees are bringing back Judge for one reason - for the results. The team is so bad right now that the Yankees hope a less than 100% Judge can get them more wins. If the Yankees cared about process, Aaron Judge would be resting. If the Yankees cared about process, a rehab assignment would be part of the plan before thrusting Aaron Judge into a game to face big leaguers in what the Yankees believe is a pennant race.
The Yankees cannot say that the results don't matter. Please also note, the Yankees only say that after they fail. Focusing on the process is nothing more than an excuse. "I know we lost, but don't look at that, look at the process we used."
I am looking at the process... and the process is not good.
The Yankees time and again demonstrate that their process is flawed. This is why the team is struggling the way it has. This is why there hasn't been a World Series appearance since 2009. This is why the vast majority of their prospects fail. On and on...
And this is why the Yankees are rushing Aaron Judge back and putting his future in jeopardy. This is all bad process. The Yankees, for a long time now, have had a terrible process.
The risk/reward here clearly weighs heavily in favor of keeping Aaron Judge out of the lineup.
It would be nice if the Yankees did the right thing with Aaron Judge, but it looks very clearly like they will not.