If the 2023 season proved anything, it’s that the Yankees can’t consistently win games without Aaron Judge as currently constructed. The numbers don’t lie: they went 57-49 with Judge in the lineup and 25-31 without him.
Unfortunately for New York, two injured list stints limited Judge to just 106 games this year, and even though he was almost as productive as his record-setting 2022, playing 56 times without him ended up hurting their chances. No team is going to be at its best without the league MVP, but for the Yankees, it was devastating.
2023 Statistics: 106 games, 458 PA, .267/.406/.613, 37 HR, 174 wRC+, .420 wOBA, 5.3 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Signed through 2031
In just under two-thirds of a season, Judge inflicted more damage than many of his colleagues who were healthy all year long. He slashed an incredible .267/.406/.613 with 37 home runs, 88 walks and a 1.019 OPS. His 174 wRC+ was identical than that of his majestic 2017 debut campaign, although admittedly below the 209 mark he posted in his now-legendary 2022.
Between 2018 and 2021, Judge was a 140-150 wRC+ hitter. Going by his last two seasons, however, he has increased his ceiling at the same time he has taken more leadership-related responsibilities inside the clubhouse (being the new captain).
The year started with Judge being productive, but not quite at his best version. From the beginning of the season until April 27th, his last game before being placed on the 10-day injured list with a mild right hip strain, he hit .261/.352/.511 with a 134 wRC+ but an elevated 32.4-percent strikeout rate.
Judge returned on May 9th and was back to top form, slashing a cool .325/.457/.855 with a 242 wRC+ from that point until that fateful June 3rd game in Los Angeles.
The captain made an outstanding catch chasing a batted ball near the right-field wall, but he collided with the Dodger Stadium bullpen fence and hurt his right big toe on the cement slab at the base. Initially misreported as a sprain, it turns out that Judge had torn ligaments in the area and missed multiple weeks with the ailment. He wouldn’t return until July 28th, missing almost two months of action in which the Yanks’ offense, already mediocre, really struggled to score runs.
Since he made his long-awaited return on July 28th until the end of the season, the Captain hit a rock-solid .245/.408/.557 with a 164 wRC+. Yankees fans can’t help but wonder what his final numbers would have looked like if he hadn’t suffered that untimely injury. He was cruising until that point, absolutely mashing the ball.
Judge was very good, even elite, in the final two months after he got back in the lineup from his injury. However, he could have gotten closer to the 62 home runs he hit last year if that outfield wall hadn’t ruined his season. The fact that he hit 37 dingers under the circumstances, being far from 100 percent for much of the campaign, is remarkable and speaks of Judge’s tenacity. (The stretch even included a pair of three-homer games — the first two of the captain’s career.)
Judge was so good that he put up a 5.3-WAR season in just 106 games. His 162-game pace, for those wondering, was 8.1. That would have been the third-best season in his career.
Defensively, the numbers indicate that Judge took a step back from his peak form: his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) decreased from three to -4, and his Outs Above Average (OAA) went down from three to zero. However, especially considering the injury circumstances, we are more than willing to give him a pass. He played a lot of DH in the last two months and it’s easy to understand why.
All things considered, Judge played another MVP-caliber season; he just didn’t play enough to qualify for the award. This year, he was likely to lose to Shohei Ohtani anyway but still, given the way he was hitting right before going down in early June, he could have been really, really close. His “A” grade was very much deserved.
The Yankees just can’t afford to lose Judge for extended period, and that speaks loudly about their roster construction deficiencies. If they want to return to the postseason in 2024, they are going to need their captain playing close to 150 games.