Aaron Judge is back. After officially being placed on the active roster last week, Judge slotted right back into number-two slot in the Yankees’ lineup last night. His long, at times frustrating recovery is over at last. This is a massively welcome bit of news for the scuffling Yankees.
Still, as Judge returns, questions will certainly linger. How healthy is Judge, given he reportedly can still feel a little pain in his wrist? How long will it take Judge to return to top form? How will the injury affect him as he comes back?
All questions worth considering, so I decided to take a quick look at players from recent years that underwent a similar ordeal as Judge. Just as a refresher, Judge was hit by a pitch on July 26th, breaking his wrist. He ultimately missed about eight weeks, without having undergone surgery.
I tried to find players that broke their wrist, but also didn’t undergo surgery, instead opting to rest and heal over a matter of weeks. I came up with four examples of batters who broke their wrists, didn’t go under the knife, and returned within the same season, and tried to see if we could discern anything from their travails.
The most recent comp to Judge is Justin Turner. The Dodgers third baseman was drilled by a pitch in spring training, and ended up missing about eight weeks, a very similar time frame to Judge. Turner offers both reason to be optimistic and worried.
The bad news first: Turner struggled out of the gate. A month into his season, Turner was hitting just .253/.330/.386. This was a far cry from Turner’s typical production, as he carried a .303 batting average and .502 slugging percentage as Dodger into the year.
On the other hand, after a slow start, Turner has been excellent. After those first 30 days, Turner has hit a sensational .349/.450/.587, bringing his seasonal OPS+ figure all the way up to a career-high 158. So there are a couple things you could take away from Turner. Either you could see a player who struggled initially after returning from a broken wrist, or one who ended up turning in phenomenal play on the season in spite of the injury.
Going back to last season, Trea Turner also presents an interesting example. The young shortstop broke his wrist in late June of 2017 and didn’t come back until late August, again a dead ringer for Judge. Turner might offer the best case scenario for Judge, as he didn’t miss a beat upon returning. After hitting a solid but unspectacular .279/.324/.422 prior to injury, Turner went on one of the better runs of his career after returning, posting a .297/.371/.525 line.
Also in 2017, star Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman suffered a broken wrist and missed seven weeks. He sets an intriguing precedent. Before the injury, Freeman was having an unbelievable year, hitting .341/.461/.748 and looking like an MVP favorite. He hit .292/.375/.515 after returning, a clear drop from his early-season play.
One way to interpret freeman’s experience is that he fell off dramatically after breaking his wrist. That is an uncharitable look at the situation. Almost regardless of whether Freeman got injured, he was quite unlikely to continue hitting as well as he did to start 2017, as no one outside of peak Barry Bonds can maintain a 1.200 OPS. Freeman’s OPS after the injury was actually 33 points than his career mark entering the year. A more charitable view of Freeman’s season would be that he in fact performed better than could have been expected after returning from injury.
The last example that best fit Judge’s template that I could find was Alex Gordon, who missed five weeks with a broken wrist in 2016. Perhaps Gordon isn’t a perfect case, as he was in the decline of his career when he got hurt, but he will do for now. Gordon was hitting a paltry .211/.319/.331 before injury. Afterwards? He stepped up a little bit, hitting .224/.309/.403 the rest of the way.
So in our small sample, we have: Justin Turner, a player that struggled briefly after returning but ultimately performed great, Trea Turner, who didn’t miss a beat upon coming back from injury, Freeman, who fell off from his early season play but still produced above career norms, and Gordon, who had a poor season overall but was better after the injury than before.
This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive study, and is merely a quick anecdotal look at players who recently had to endure what Judge has gone through. At a glance, I think the results are promising. All four players either had strong seasons or even slightly improved their level of play after returning. Maybe most importantly, none of them appeared to be devastated by the injury. The biggest question for Judge, of course, is whether the remaining couple weeks of the season are enough to get him ready for the playoffs. Based on recent precedent, he looks like he’ll have a decent chance.