Aaron Judge’s injury has not been a good thing for the Yankees, obviously. For starters, it removed an MVP candidate out of a key spot in the lineup. It also forced Shane Robinson into a starting role.
Robinson seemed destined to be an “Oh yeah, him” person that you come across years from now while looking through 2018 stats. He played a few games in April before going to Triple-A, where it appeared he would play out the rest of the season. A couple injures and trades later, and suddenly he had to be recalled and has played way more than he should.
While I’m sure Robinson is a perfectly nice human being, he hasn’t been great at the plate. Through Thursday, he is hitting .129/.229/.226 in 16 games with the Yankees. That’s not ideal.
The difference seems so stark, that it begs the question: Could Judge do any better if he came up to the plate without a bat? After all, he is quite good at working full counts and drawing walks. This anaylsis draws inspiration from a video about Barry Bonds from SB Nation’s Jon Bois:
As mentioned in the video, we don’t mean literally without a bat. If Judge went up and stood there doing nothing, the pitchers would pump three strikes straight down the plate. Maybe occasionally one pitch would get away from him, or the pitcher completely loses the zone and somehow still walks him. However, 99% of the at-bats would end in strikeouts. Just go along with the pretense that the pitcher doesn’t realize this and is pitching him normally. Judge just wouldn’t swing.
I looked through all of Judge’s at-bats from this season that ended without him putting a ball in play: strikeouts, walks, and hit-by-pitches. I then went through the pitch by pitch data and strike zone plots at Brooks Baseball and checked the at-bats that included him swinging at at least one of the pitches in the bat, seeing if anything would have been different if Judge hadn’t swung. Foul balls that were outside the normal strike zone go down as balls, if they were in the zone, they stayed strikes. Same deal with swinging strikes. Yes, some of the balls that PitchFX had out of the zone would have been called strikes by the human umpires if Judge hadn’t swung. However, there were also plenty of strikes called on Judge that were outside, so we’ll call that even.
For the at-bats that would have continued beyond the number of pitches that were actually thrown, I used a random number generator to simulate whether the next pitches would have been balls or strikes. I based that on the percentage of pitches in the zone that Judge has seen this season and simulated the remainder of those at-bats. Then (somewhat lazily, admittedly) I used the results of that to simulate and replace the at-bats of the balls he did put in play.
Here’s what happened. In the 447 plate appearances he’s had this season, Judge would strike out 199 times, get hit by a pitch nine times, and draw 239 walks. That would be good for a 0.555 OBP and OPS.
As good an eye as Judge has, he does have a tendency to swing at pitches outside the zone. Some of that is probably due to him being tall and having a larger strike zone, so if this happened it reality, the OBP probably wouldn’t be that high.
That said, Aaron Judge without out a bat could possibly be 100 OPS points better than Shane Robinson.