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Does Aaron Judge’s body size make him injury prone?

Aaron Judge’s size has often been viewed as problematic due to an increased chance of injury - it shouldn’t be.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Last Friday, I wrote that Aaron Judge’s injury history is not as problematic as it’s often portrayed, and that it shouldn’t prevent the Yankees from offering him a contract extension of significant value. An issue that keeps arising, however, is that of Judge’s physical size, typically in the context that it places him at greater risk of injury when compared to other players.

The variables that go into injury prevention and injuries themselves are innumerable, and many can’t be accounted for. When prognosticating about whether or not a certain player can remain healthy, in almost all cases even the most knowledgeable and experienced people in the field are only making educated guesses. The problem with regards to Judge is that he is so incredibly rare physically, it’s hard to educate ourselves, because there simply is no history to base our opinions on because no other MLB player has ever been like him.

According to Baseball Reference, 22,564 players have appeared in MLB games, and a grand total of one position player has been both at least 6’7” and at least 280 pounds. If you drop the criteria to 6’6” and 250 pounds, still only six other MLB position players have ever been that big, and if you drop it to 6’5” and 240 pounds still only 34 MLB position players in history have been that big.

There is no one to compare him to because there literally has never been anyone like him in a physical sense on an MLB field. Even if there were, this is under the assumption that the numbers Baseball-Reference has are 100 percent accurate, which can’t be possible given body weights will always vary over time, even if only to a small extent. It also doesn’t account for body composition – Judge is obviously very lean and muscular. Does that make him more or less susceptible to injury than a player who is not as perceptibly fit, yet is still great at baseball?

We don’t know much, but let’s start with what we do know. We know that the best predictor of future injuries is the number of past injuries, which may not seem like good news in Judge’s case on the surface. Yet 2021 was his healthiest season in terms of soft tissue injuries, as he missed only three days total with an unspecified lower body injury and back spasms. Experience (and willingness to adapt) are variables in this discussion that can’t be accounted for – it’s certainly possible that Judge and those around him have learned and adapted with regards to exercise selection, frequency, rest, and recovery both on and off the field.

We also know that age and postural issues can be factors in the frequency of injury as well. Judge will be 30 in April, which isn’t young by baseball standards but is a long way away from old as well. He also doesn’t display biomechanical issues (such as kyphosis or ankle eversion or external rotation as two examples) that would raise red flags for people who notice such things in the injury prevention world.

Kinesiology mumbo-jumbo aside, what do we know from a baseball perspective? Not much. It’s virtually impossible to come up with an effective study to ascertain if physical size is correlated to injury rates among baseball players (this is something I can confirm through personal experience.) There are so many variables involved that finding a large sample size that is even reasonably close to an apples-to-apples comparison between groups of players of varying sizes is a pipe dream. Although as I mentioned in my article on Friday, Judge hasn’t missed more games due to injury on average when compared to the highest-paid outfielders in MLB since 2017. That’s of course not a huge sample size, but they are players who have the same physical demands and are viewed similarly, which is to say as players who are very valuable to the team and will be treated as such.

At this point, if you’re getting ready to start typing a comment saying this is an article that doesn’t tell us conclusively if Judge’s size makes him an injury risk, I wouldn’t fully blame you, as I certainly wish I could be more definitive as well. Yet I would warn from experience that trying to pin the cause of differing injuries on any single factor is too simplistic for what is a very complex issue. That aspect of it alone makes me skeptical that there’s something to the theory that Judge’s size is anything but a positive.

The Yankees have a player who has produced the third-most WAR among position players in MLB since 2017, regardless of the number of games played. Even if we only look at 2018-2020 when he missed 146 games due to injuries, he still produced more WAR than all but four outfielders and was top 15 in baseball overall. During his injury-prone stretch, Judge was still one of the most valuable players in baseball.

When you combine that with the fact that there is no evidence that isn’t anecdotal, circumstantial, or lacking data that suggests his size is a negative, there’s no reason for the Yankees to avoid offering Judge an extension. The only thing that may cause reticence with such is a concern for Hal Steinbrenner’s bottom line, which also as I’ve written before, is not a conversation I’m inclined to entertain.