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Was Aaron Judge already injured?

The theme of this season has easily been all of the injuries. During spring training, it seemed like the things every team goes through, but now it has gotten comical. The team has 13 players on the Injured List, and those guys could form a veritable All-Star team. Take a look:

Yeah, I would definitely take that team over the current iteration of the RailRiders that is going out there every night.

One of our writers, Delia, has taken to creating “Avenge the Fallen” posters every time a new player gets injured, and I am starting to worry about how much time she must be spending in Photoshop with how crazy it has been:

Not to bury the lede because everyone already knows this, but Aaron Judge was the latest player to succumb to whatever machinations whoever has the 2019 Yankees voodoo doll is messing around with. And with obliques larger than most people’s torsos, he’s going to be out a while.

I’m not normally one to fall into conspiracy theories, but with everything going on, it is worth asking if Judge was already injured and tried to play through it. There are a few reasons to think this may be possible.

First, as indicated by the plethora of posters that Delia has had to make, there are so few starters left and you know a guy like Judge is going to do everything he can to stay in the lineup at all costs. You remember last year how Giancarlo Stanton played months with an injured quad because he felt the team needed him. Someone as selfless and team-oriented as Judge would certainly do the same.

The second, unfortunate, reason is how bad the Yankees have been lately with diagnosing injuries and creating realistic timelines. Remember Aaron Hicks? He was supposed to return for the second series of the year. Luis Severino? He and Cashman are publically disagreeing over when his lat started hurting.

With all those issues, it is fair to question the team’s handling of injuries and wonder if Judge was already hurt. When asked by Meredith Marokovits the other day, look how long he paused before saying he felt it on that swing only (0:36 mark in video):

That’s a real convincing four second pause that will definitely inspire confidence in the entire fan base. (sarcasm in case that wasn’t abundantly clear).

So we have some qualitative evidence, let’s see if there is anything in Judge’s numbers and advanced stats that can tell us anything.

The Numbers

Before Judge got injured, noted stats guy at our site Frank sent us this tweet from James Smyth of the YES Network:

That is: good. A behemoth like Judge is always going to hit the ball hard, and it is awesome that his hard contact rate is basically double league average. Thus, since he can still hit the ball so damn hard, he likely was not hurt. The problem with that thinking is it does not account for where he is hitting the ball. Hitting the ball hard is great, but if you are pounding it into the ground, you aren’t going to be very good. You remember Gary Sanchez last year – he, too, had a great hard hit rate, but it seemed like every ball he hit was a rocket right at the third basemen.

In looking at Judge’s batted ball data, the number that stands out is his oppo%. In 2017 and 2018, Judge hit the ball to the opposite field about 28 percent of the time. This season that number is up 10 percent to about 38 percent. Interestingly, that increase has come directly at the expense of his pull% because that number is down 10 percent to 31 percent. A guy like Judge should be driving the ball to all fields, but it is concerning that he is hitting more balls the other way than to left field because it is harder to drive the ball the other way.

Take a look at his heatmaps for a visual:

The 2018 heatmap is on the left, and 2019 is on the right. Look at the difference! Last year Judge was driving the ball all over the field, and you can see where he drove the ball to the pull side. This year, everything seems to be going to right field, and I count one home run to the left side of the field.

I know it is so early in the year, but this is still concerning. And especially with the injury, part of me wonders whether or not Judge was intentionally hitting the ball to right field to protect himself. Think about it – to pull the ball, you really have to rotate your entire torso by the time you make contact, which heavily involves the obliques. To hit the ball the other way, you can maintain a more closed stance that does not put as much pressure on the obliques.

A guy like Judge will never admit that he was hurt and trying to compensate, but there are reasons to be concerned. In addition to his delayed response to when he first felt hurt, there is a huge difference in his approach at the plate that he has not discussed. We can only hope that he takes the time to recover, and that when he comes back he is back to destroying the baseball all over the field.

You can contact Rohan on Twitter @rohanarcot20