On Monday, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge took live batting practice for the first time since fracturing his right wrist in July. As a Yankee fan, I couldn’t help but smile when I heard the news, and there’s not a Yankee fan out there who doesn’t want to see Judge’s name back in the starting lineup.
But if Judge doesn’t play again this season, that’s not such a bad thing either.
There is still no timetable for Judge, who initially was expected to miss only three weeks with the injury. The recovery has been slow and frustrating for Judge and Yankees fans alike, and the pain in his wrist has yet to completely subside.
Monday’s BP session, therefore, was incredibly encouraging, not only because Judge took live swings, but also because of what he did with those swings: hitting shots into the seats like a typical Judge batting practice.
Judge is more than simply one of the Baby Bombers, he is the Baby Bomber. He’s a bona fide superstar, and the Yankees are a different team with him in the lineup.
With Judge in the starting nine, the Yankees are 64-35 this season, a .646 winning percentage. Without him, they’re only 26-19, a .578 winning percentage. He leads the team in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), one of the most telling stats of a player’s value to their team, despite missing a month and a half of action. In fact, his WAR is top-10 in the American League, even with the rest of the 10 each having about 100 more at-bats.
It also matters whose spot on the roster Judge would be replacing, and the Yankees are in desperate need of production from an outfielder not named Giancarlo. That’s why they got Andrew McCutchen—who has batted .148 since joining the team.
Put simply, there’s no player on the New York roster more central to the team’s success than Judge. But if he’s not at 100 percent, the Yankees would be justified in leaving him on the pine for the rest of the season.
Wrist injuries, as Judge has learned, can linger. After seven weeks, the pain in his wrist hasn’t improved much at all, so it seems fairly clear at this point that if Judge does return, he’ll be playing through significant discomfort. If it was July, Judge probably wouldn’t even be in that batting practice circle.
And that’s the thing. The Yankees should treat the Judge injury as if they had the all the time in the world, not as if the postseason is bearing down on them. Judge has at least four more years in a Yankee uniform, and if you haven’t heard, the team’s got quite a bit of young talent.
Here’s one very possible scenario: the Yankees don’t win the division (because that team from Boston is somewhat decent this season) and take on Oakland in the Wild Card game. Judge rushes through rehab, joins the team just in time for the postseason, and starts against the Athletics. But of course, since he hasn’t played major league baseball in two months, he struggles, the Yankees lose the game (which could happen even if Judge returns in midseason form), and Judge damages his wrist by not allowing it to recover fully.
There’s obviously no guarantee that Judge will worsen his injury by playing through it, but there’s also no guarantee that he’ll be a valuable addition to the lineup even if he does play.
That said, Judge is a game-changer no matter the circumstances and, in a one-game playoff, you need all the game-changers you can get. If he’s healthy, he should play; if not, he shouldn’t. I want him in the lineup, but only if it doesn’t risk his future—and the team’s future—in the process.