Slowly but surely Aaron Judge is finding his way back on to the field, but how much is to be expected of him upon his return?
It’s now been 42 days and counting without the everyday sighting of No. 99 in right field.
What has kept the Judge’s Chambers busy in the meantime? It’s been hard to rise for the Judge without one.
But regardless of how much he is missed, one thing remains uncertain. How much can be expected from him when returns to the field?
It was on July 26, as many of us are surely aware of by now when he was hit by a pitch on his right wrist which resulted in a chip-fracture. Initial reports, along with the word of team’s physician, Christopher Ahmad, projected Judge to be sidelined for only three weeks. That timetable has admittingly been changed as Judge has just begun to ramp up his rehab.
Good news, Yankees fans … Aaron Judge IS SWINGING a bat again. pic.twitter.com/iJg58mxPAB
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) September 3, 2018
He has not faced any sort of live pitching or batting practice but this most recent step is all anyone associated with the team can ask for.
“I heard he was able to really pop it today [off the tee], which is an encouraging sign that he was able to do it back-to-back days,” Aaron Boone said. “I know he stood in on Masahiro to do some tracking. So another good step forward for Judge.”
Echoing Boone’s comments, it was a tremendous first step. Primarily because the news at the forefront all along was until he felt no pain in his wrist while swinging a bat, then he was no closer to a return than he was the day before.
On Wednesday, via George King III of the New York Post, Boone also mentioned,
“We are not exactly sure when he gets to the point when he faces live pitching how exactly we will do that.’’
All of the recent news has been a splendid sight for a given Yankee fan but, there is something that is being left forgotten.
Part of why Judge isn’t back yet is due in part to the constant pain he had in his wrist for the first month after his injury. The all-important step was to swing a bat with absolutely no pain in the wrist and he has accomplished that.
One must realize even if Judge is swinging a bat off a tee and receiving soft toss, none of it will match the type of pitching and overall level of baseball, he will have to face upon his return.
Aaron Boone says Aaron Judge was able to do both tee work and soft toss inside the cages in Oakland today. They're still figuring out what the rehab-game process would look like for him. Didi Gregorius is still likely to be activated Friday.
— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) September 6, 2018
And that’s the point. When Aaron Judge returns, we have to assume it will be in the midst of the final homestretch of the season — probably the last two weeks of September. That in mind, the type of baseball being played at that time will be at its all-time high in terms of the competition. With Judge having to get his timing back and swing in the right place, can it be expected to happen overnight or in the final two weeks of September when they face the Red Sox for the final six times (three at home, three in Fenway)?
The answer merely is no. Judge, like the other 75 percent of the league, are also human, and to ask him to be the early-season MVP candidate he was before his injury is a lot. In the month of July alone he was composing a slash line of .329/.427/.537. He also had five homers, 12 walks, and seven RBI in July as well.
By the time he hits the field again, he’ll have missed roughly two months of extremely important baseball.
If there was ever a time and place to find your swing, let’s be honest, it’s not in the middle of September baseball. It’s just the cold hard truth.
Yes, dually-noted and acknowledged, Judge is an elite player in the MLB. He does have the ability and potential to find his swing faster than most might think, but it’s the timing and all other moving parts that are difficult to put together in such a short time frame.
No one, including myself, is saying he can’t be the player he was before the freak injury, but it needs to be reiterated that “Rome wasn’t built in one day.”
The harsh reality is that when Aaron Judge returns, the odds of him producing to the level he was at is very slim. He will be in a “fresh-out-of spring training” sort of swing mode, with still the risk of having pain when he first makes contact or swings at a 95mph fastball.
Just to put in context, former Metropolitan, and current Los Angeles Dodger, Justin Turner had a very similar wrist fracture in spring training this season. After being hit by a pitch on March 19 against Oakland A’s starter Kendall Graveman (in a meaningless at bat) Turner was diagnosed with a small non-displaced left wrist fracture. He was able to avoid surgery just as Judge did.
And when did Turner return to the Dodgers lineup?
May 15. It was roughly two months after first injuring his wrist and, when he returned to the field, the sight of him was a polarizing image from a year ago.
Between May 15 and July 22 Turner hit .259/.354/.398 slash line and had just five home runs and 20 RBI during that stretch. For a player who hit .311 overall in 2017, evidently, something was wrong in his swing for the first half of this season.
To put in perspective, in 2017 from May 16 to July 23 he hit a ridiculous .376 with a 1.162 OPS. and 10 homers.
There’s an obvious reason for the difference.
Simply, the health of his wrist. The wrist is one of those tricky body parts in the baseball landscape like the UCL and ankle. While one may think it is fully healed, the bone itself never really gets back to 100 percent again. While Turner’s injury in his wrist was a non-displaced fracture, Judge’s chip fracture is going to weigh the same liabilities.
Discomfort can be present for months, even years after it is “fully healed”. It is safe to believe that Judge will be dealing with the same struggles Turner did at the beginning of this year. Obviously, nothing is for sure until he is seen back on the field — which won’t occur most likely until the last two weeks of September.
The concern will and should be the main focal point in the Yankees’ organization. Aaron Judge will continue to remain with the team and his next step will eventually be to take live BP.
The New York Yankees’ brass and Aaron Judge have a problem. One that may not be resolved until next season.