After back-to-back seasons ruined by injuries right as he was heating up, Aaron Judge was one of the Yankees most looking forward to the 2020 season. With the shorter campaign, there was less time for him to get hurt, and we’ve all marveled at the things Judge can do in 60-game spurts of dominance.
However, for the third straight year, Judge’s end-of-season report card was dinged by another nagging injury. He suffered a calf strain in August, and then re-injured it upon returning. Add that to the two oblique strains and fractured wrist in his past, and Judge has racked up quite the medical bill.
Although that time on the shelf holds him back from reaching his true potential, Judge was still quite good on the field in 2020. He hasn’t sustained the tantalizing highs of his 2017 season, but he’s still one of the most elite hitters in the American League when he’s in the lineup.
2020 Statistics: 28 games, 114 plate appearances, .257/.336/.554, 9 HR, 22 RBI, 142 OPS+, 1.0 bWAR, 0.9 fWAR
2021 Contract Status: Entering second year of arbitration eligibility
Judge started off 2020 at a blistering pace. Over his first 17 games, he slashed an incredible .290/.343/.758 with nine home runs and 20 RBI. He was performing at an MVP level, and it was the first time since that Rookie of the Year campaign that Judge looked healthy and fully locked-in at the plate. Who could forget that five-game home run streak that included a game-winner against the Red Sox, where Matt Vasgersian completely lost his mind?
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last. That pesky calf strain popped up 10 days later, and cratered a promising season. The Yankees seemed to rush Judge back, which led to aggravating the injury and returning to the shelf after just one game. When he came back for good in September, he went cold at the plate after almost a month off. He only hit .194 with 13 strikeouts and just one extra-base hit (a double) in the 10 games he played in September. The slump brought his numbers back down to a merely above-average level at season’s end.
Judge followed that up with a strange playoff. On the one hand, he only got four hits in seven games. However, three of them were home runs, including one in a win-or-go-home ALDS Game 5 where he was the Yankees’ only source of offense. All in all though, Judge left fans wanting more in October, where he remains just a career .229 hitter with an .853 OPS, a step down from his career regular season .272 average and .948 OPS.
Judge showed some encouraging signs at the plate when he was hot earlier in the season. He cut down on his strikeouts some, and got back to pulling the ball and focusing more on hitting for power than for average. It’s great when Judge knocks singles the other way, but what separates him from most batters is his massive power, and that predominantly comes from pulling the ball and hitting it in the air. Seeing his launch angle rise three degrees and his slugging percentage at its highest since 2017 are indications that Judge’s power is back in a big way.
Of course, Judge also played his usually-strong right field defense. It’s an area of his game that used to get overlooked, but is now recognized as a large part of the package that makes Judge such a great player.
When Judge was on the field in 2020, he was arguably the Yankees’ best player outside of DJ LeMahieu, as is expected of him. Entering his age-29 season and his second year of arbitration eligibility, Judge has a big year ahead of him. If he can piece together a healthy season, he could be due for a massive pay raise. However, another year of injuries would only cast more doubt, especially with his 30s right around the corner. 2021 is quickly shaping up to be Judge’s most important season yet in the bigs.