Aaron Judge undergoes left shoulder surgery, will be ready for Spring Training

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Turns out Aaron Judge wrapping his left shoulder with a big ice pack after each game in the second half was more than routine maintenance. Judge had arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder yesterday, the Yankees announced. The procedure “involved a loose-body removal and cartilage clean-up,” and his recovery will be completed in time for Spring Training.

Judge started wrapping his shoulder in the second half, at the same time as his slump, though of course he denied it had anything to do with his troubles at the plate. “It’s not affecting me at all,” he said on more than one occasion. Here’s a look at the ice pack following a game with the Red Sox on August 20th.

It’s impossible to say how much the achy shoulder contributed to Judge’s slump, if it contributed at all. He never made excuses, though the left shoulder is Judge’s front shoulder when hitting, and the front shoulder is the power shoulder. It might not have been a coincidence his hard contact rate dropped precipitously in the first few weeks of the second half.

aaron-judge-hard-contact

If the shoulder was bothering Judge, it didn’t show in September, when he hit .311/.463/.889 (233 wRC+) with 15 home runs, his most in any month. Achy shoulder or not, Judge still hit .284/.422/.627 (173 wRC+) with 52 home runs this season, and that is pretty awesome. That earned him the AL Rookie of the Year award (unanimously) and a second place finish in the AL MVP voting.

Although this surgery seems minor — it was arthroscopic, so they didn’t have to cut Judge open — every surgery is a risk, especially when it involves a major joint like the shoulder. Hopefully Judge’s rehab goes well and he comes back next season at full strength, because if this season was any indication, he’s pretty excellent even when his shoulder is barking.

Assorted Thoughts: MVP, Manager, New York Sports

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)

Happy Sunday, RAB. I hope you guys are all doing well. Since I won’t “see” you until then, I wanted to wish you readers–at least you American ones–a Happy Thanksgiving as we approach my favorite holiday. How do you beat a holiday devoted to food? If only there were all day baseball instead of all day football. Alas. In the spirit of said holiday, I did want to give thanks to you all for continuing to read my work and the (incredible) work of everyone here at the site. It’s beyond rewarding to know that you come here for your Yankee news and discourse when there are so many other options available out there. At the same time, it’s both humbling and a great source of pride. Thank you for your continued support. Yankees only.

Let’s start our Sunday musings by discussing the league MVP awards that were handed out last week. Every year, I tell myself I’m going to care less and less about this stuff and it generally holds true. I may make a case for someone or hope someone wins, but this isn’t like ten years ago on the internet when I lived and breathed this type of stuff. Back then, it was a way to flex analytical muscles and show your deeper understanding of the game, especially when you confronted someone more ‘traditional.’ Thankfully, I’ve (mostly) given up that ghost and just sort of take these things as they come. We live in an information age and players who might have lost undeservingly still get lots of recognition and will continue to do so, thanks to sites like Baseball Reference. Case in point? Luis Severino. I was totally fine with him winning third place for the AL Cy Young Award this year. He was clearly a step behind Corey Kluber and Chris Sale, and there is no shame in that, especially after his 2016. But then there was the AL MVP award.

Jose Altuve beat out Aaron Judge and I was, temporarily, Mad Online about that fact. This isn’t to say Altuve isn’t deserving or anything like that. I just think Judge was more deserving. With a few exceptions, Judge beat Altuve soundly in most statistical categories. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter that much because they were pretty close in overall value, even if they got there in very different ways–that’s the cool thing about baseball–but I’m still a bit chapped Judge didn’t win. Altuve had a better narrative–and didn’t have a six week slump–and that’s why he won. Bah humbug. Whoops, wrong holiday season.

Bam Bam. (Getty)
Bam Bam. (Getty)

As for the next Yankee manager, consider me firmly in the camp of Hensley Meulens. He’s relatively young. He’s got coaching experience both acutely–hitting coach–and broadly–bench coach and Netherlands manager during the WBC. As an added bonus, he’s a polyglot who speaks English, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, and Papiamento. All of those languages are crucial to players on the Yankees and Bam Bam’s skills in speaking them would only serve to make better communication between manager and players. That seems to be what he Yankees are looking for, first and foremost, and it’s the overall trend in baseball. 95% of what a manager does is behind the scenes anyway; there isn’t that much variation in on-field tactics at this point in baseball history, so having a guy who can connect to his players and communicate with them most effectively is what’s most important. From what we can see on the outside, Meulens seems to be the man for the job.

Ignoring the actual records of some of the teams, it seems that we’re in a pretty damn good place with New York sports, huh? The Giants may be a disaster, but they could have their next franchise QB soon. The Jets have played a little better than expected and have some exciting young talent. The Nets are at least interesting and the Knicks, led by the Unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, seem to have a bright future as well. I can’t speak well to hockey, but that leaves us with the Yankees and Mets. The Mets may be a question mark, but things are unquestionably optimistic-looking for the Yankees after this surprise season. We could be seeing a renaissance in New York sports and that would be great for the city and the area.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving, all. I hope you have a great holiday with friends and family. Thanks as always for reading.

Aaron Judge finishes second in 2017 AL MVP voting

(Elsa/Getty)
Greatness has arrived. (Elsa/Getty)

Alas, Aaron Judge did not become only the third player in history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was predictably named the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player by MLB and the BBWAA on Thursday night. Congrats to him. Judge finished second in the voting and Indians infielder Jose Ramirez finished third.

Earlier this week Judge was named the AL Rookie of the Year unanimously, which is the kinda thing that happens when you hit .284/.422/.627 (173 wRC+) with 52 homers. Judge is the second rookie ever to finish runner-up in the MVP voting, joining Mike Trout in 2012. Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) are still the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.

Altuve of course had a fantastic season, hitting .346/.410/.547 (160 wRC+) with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases. The Baseball Reference version of WAR says he was the best player in baseball this season, AL or NL. The FanGraphs version of WAR says Judge was the best player in baseball. Hmmm. Ultimately, Altuve won because Judge went through that six-week slump after the All-Star break. That’s the difference right there.

At the same time, you could easily argue the Yankees would not have made the postseason without Judge. Would the Astros have made the postseason without Altuve? Yeah, probably. They won the AL West by 21 games. Same deal with Ramirez. The Indians won the AL Central by 17 games. So many MVP voters still consider the postseason situation when filling out their ballots, though not enough to give Judge the award this year.

Judge’s second place finish is the highest a Yankee has finished in the MVP voting since Mark Teixeira was the runner-up to Joe Mauer in 2009. Derek Jeter was third in the voting that year, and Robinson Cano finished third in the voting in 2011. The last Yankee to win the AL MVP award is Alex Rodriguez back in 2007.

The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site. Altuve received 27 of the 30 first place votes while Judge received two. Judge also received 27 second place votes and one third place vote. He was on all 30 ballots. In other MVP voting news, Didi Gregorius received one eighth and one tenth place vote, and Gary Sanchez received one tenth place vote. Pretty awesome. Congrats guys. What a fun season this was.

Aaron Judge unanimously named 2017 AL Rookie of the Year

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

In the least surprising news ever, Aaron Judge was named the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year tonight. It was unanimous. Judge received all 30 first place votes. Andrew Benintendi finished second and Trey Mancini finished third. The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site.

“It means everything. It’s quite an honor,” said Judge after the announcement. “It’s an honor and a privilege. I’m just one piece in an organization. The impact my teammates, family, and friends have had on me this year have been huge. I can’t thank them enough.”

Judge is the first Yankee to be named Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996, and he’s the ninth Yankee to win the award overall. Judge joins Jeter, Dave Righetti (1981), Thurman Munson (1970), Stan Bahnsen (1968), Tom Tresh (1962), Tony Kubek (1957), Bob Grim (1954), and Gil McDougald (1951). Only the Dodgers have more Rookie of the Year winners than the Yankees.

Overall, Judge authored a .284/.422/.627 (173 wRC+) batting line this season, and he set new rookie records in home runs (52) and walks (127) and, yes, strikeouts (208). His +8.2 fWAR led all players in 2017. Rookies and veterans, position players and pitchers. That’s why Judge is also a finalist for the AL MVP award. That’ll be announced later this week.

I was a big Judge fan throughout his time in the minors, even when others jumped off the bandwagon following his strikeout filled MLB debut last year. Never in a million years did I expect a season like this though. Judge was historically great for a rookie and one of the best players in the game. What a remarkable season. The Rookie of the Year award is very well deserved.

Elsewhere in Rookie of the Year news, Jordan Montgomery finished sixth in the voting and received one second place and one third place vote. Montgomery threw 155.1 innings with a 3.88 ERA (4.07 FIP) this season, and his +2.7 fWAR led all rookie pitchers. Chad Green did not receive any Rookie of the Year votes because he wasn’t rookie eligible. He accrued too much service time last year.

Judge and Montgomery are the first set of Yankees teammates to receive Rookie of the Year votes in the same season since Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka in 2014. Betances finished third in the voting and Tanaka finished fifth. Congrats to both Judge and Montgomery. They had tremendous seasons and are big parts of the future.

Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

Judge named finalist for MVP and Rookie of the Year, Severino for Cy Young

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Earlier this evening MLB and the BBWAA announced three finalists for each of the major 2017 awards, and, as expected, Aaron Judge is a finalist for both AL MVP and AL Rookie of the Year. Luis Severino is a finalist for AL Cy Young as well. That is pretty damn awesome. Here are all the awards finalists.

Judge will undoubtedly be named AL Rookie of the Year when the awards are announced next week. He should win unanimously. Judge will be the Yankees’ first Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter, and the ninth Yankee to win the award overall. He’ll join Jeter (1996), Dave Righetti (1981), Thurman Munson (1970), Stan Bahnsen (1968), Tom Tresh (1962), Tony Kubek (1957), Bob Grim (1954), and Gil McDougald (1951).

As for AL MVP, I think Judge will have a tough time beating out Jose Altuve for the award, even though he has the edge statistically in basically everything except batting average and stolen bases.

  • AVG: Altuve (.348 to .287)
  • OBP: Judge (.422 to .410)
  • SLG: Judge (.627 to .547)
  • wRC+: Judge (173 to 160)
  • HR: Judge (52 to 24)
  • XBH: Judge (79 to 67)
  • SB: Altuve (32 to 9)
  • DRS: Judge (+9 to +3)
  • fWAR: Judge (+8.2 to +7.5)
  • bWAR: Altuve (+8.3 to +8.1)

Judge’s second half slump will almost certainly cost him the AL MVP award. Altuve had a consistent year from start to finish, and when you have the big dip in the middle like Judge, it’ll hurt. Then again, you could argue the Yankees wouldn’t have made the postseason without Judge whereas the Astros would’ve cruised to AL West title even without Altuve. Whatever.

Judge may not win AL MVP, but he will be on the cover of MLB The Show 18, and that’s pretty damn cool. He was announced as the cover athlete today.

Severino, meanwhile, is going to finish third in the Cy Young voting behind Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. You can take that to the bank. Those two likely received the first and second place votes on every Cy Young ballot, in either order. No shame in finishing third behind those two. Severino beat out Justin Verlander, Marcus Stroman, Ervin Santana, and Craig Kimbrel, among others, for the third finalist spot.

The award winners will be announced next week and the BBWAA and MLB already know who won. The votes have been tallied up. They’ve been announcing finalists the last few seasons to drum up interest. I have no idea why they even call them finalists. They don’t vote again. Shouldn’t they just be finishers? Anyway, congrats to Judge and Severino. Being up for these awards is an incredible accomplishment.

Aaron Judge’s normal person-sized strike zone

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today we kicked off our 2017 Season Review series with the amazingly awesome Aaron Judge. Judge will win AL Rookie of the Year in a landslide and he should finish high up in the AL MVP voting. He might even win! I doubt it though. Jose Altuve seems to have a leg up, but Judge deserves to be in the conversation. His season was that good.

One thing I didn’t touch on in the Judge review post was his strike zone, because that’s worth its own post. As we saw all season, and especially in the postseason, Judge was on the wrong end of a lot of called strikes on pitches down in the zone, below his knees. He had a lot of low pitches called strikes. A lot. He’s a 6-foot-7 behemoth, yet umpires called pitches at knees like he’s a run of the mill 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2 player.

Here’s how the MLB rulebook defines the strike zone:

The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

That is the rulebook strike zone. The real life strike zone starts a little above the belt and ends at the knee. That’s how umpires have been calling it for years and years and years. Pitches up at the letters are rarely called strikes even though the rulebook says they should be called strikes.

Pitches at the knees are often called strikes as well. The bottom of the strike zone has been getting lower and lower for a while now. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a hitter take more called strikes on pitches below the knees than Judge this season. A cherry-picked example:

aaron-judge-tyler-glasnow

Game after game, all season. That pitch is down below the knees and yet, it’s a called strike for Judge. It seems to me umpires haven’t recalibrated their strike zone for Judge. The bottom of the strike zone was the same for him, at 6-foot-7, as it was for the average player, even though it shouldn’t be. He’s taller than the average hitter and therefore the bottom of his strike zone should be higher than the average hitter, right? Right.

Baseball Savant allows us to look at pitches in certain zones within the strike zone. Here is their detailed strike zone map:

statcast-strike-zone

I’m interested in zones 17, 18, and 19. Those zones at the bottom of the strike zone, pretty much right at the knees. Here are Judge’s regular season numbers:

  • Total pitches in zones 17-19: 514
  • Pitches taken in zones 17-19: 320 (62.3% of total pitches)
  • Called strikes in zones 17-19: 161 (50.3% of pitches taken)

When Judge took a pitch at the knees this season, in zones 17-19, it was 50/50 whether it would be called a strike. Now here are the MLB averages, not including Judge:

  • Total pitches in zones 17-19: 93,320
  • Pitches taken in zones 17-19: 50,486 (54.1% of total pitches)
  • Called strikes in zones 17-19: 17,114 (33.9% of pitches taken)

Hmmm. HMMM. First of all, Judge took more pitches in zones 17-19 than the average hitter, probably because those pitches are way down to him and he believes they’ll be called balls. And when he took a pitch at the knees, in zones 17-19 per that Statcast defined strike zone, it was 16.4 percentage points more likely to be called a strike than the rest of the league. Not cool, umpires. Not cool.

Had pitches in zones 17-19 been called strikes at the league average 33.9% rate for Judge, he’d have gotten 53 extra balls this year. I know getting 53 balls instead of 53 called strikes doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not in the grand scheme of things, but in one individual game it could be huge. It could be a walk instead of a strikeout. It could be a 3-1 count instead of a 2-2 count. In an individual game, the impact of one of those 53 extra balls could be enormous.

Now, to be fair, this works both ways. Judge was victimized by more called strikes at the knees this year, but he also benefited from fewer strikes at the top of the zone as well. Go look at the strike zone graphic above again. Now we’re going to look at zones 11, 12, and 13 at the top of the zone. The numbers:

  • Called strikes vs. Judge in zones 11-13: 3.9% of pitches taken
  • Called strikes vs. MLB in zones 11-13: 28.3% of pitches taken

Pitches at the knees are called a strike 16.4 percentage points more often against Judge than the league average hitter. Pitches at the letters are called a strike 24.4 percent points less often against Judge than the league average hitter. Umpires need to move their entire strike zone up a few inches against Judge. He’s getting more called strikes down and not enough called strikes up.

On one hand, trading a few extra strikes at the bottom of the zone for many more balls at the top of the zone sounds like a good trade-off. On the other hand, many more pitches are thrown down in the zone than up. The league average numbers during the regular season:

  • Total pitches in zones 11-13 (up): 62,564
  • Total pitches in zones 17-19 (down): 93,834

There are three pitches in zones 17-19 for every two pitches in zones 11-13. Given that, it would be more beneficial for Judge to trade called strikes at the letters for balls at the knees than to stick with the status quo, in which he trades called strikes at the knees for balls at the letters. Pitchers attack Judge down in the zone. They did it all season. The fewer gift strikes they get down there, the better.

The solution is not for Judge to swing at more pitches down. That’s asking for trouble. The league averages on pitches in zones 17-19 were a .204 AVG and a .092 ISO. You can’t really do anything with pitches down there. The solution is umpires making the adjustment for the 6-foot-7 hitter and calling a proper strike zone when Judge is at the plate. And maybe that means the perpetually quiet and respectful Judge has to bark at umpires a little more.

“He’s extremely respectful, but I don’t necessarily think arguing for yourself is being disrespectful if you do it in the right way,” said Joe Girardi during the ALDS. “He’s been a little more emotional. Yeah, I mean, if he thinks it’ll help (then argue). Yeah, of course. And I think sometimes young kids are afraid to say something. But I definitely wouldn’t have a problem with it.”

I have no idea whether there’s any precedent for this, but it would be cool if the Yankees reached out to MLB this offseason and said hey, Judge is getting hosed by the umpires. He’s one of the best and most popular (by jersey sales) players in the league, and he’s having at-bats taken away from him because umpires aren’t calling a proper strike zone. Send them some video. The Yankees wouldn’t be asking for an advantage. All they’d be asking for is fairness. That’s not too much to ask, is it?