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Does Aaron Judge’s Size Make Him Injury Prone?


By several measures, Aaron Judge, the superstar outfielder for the Yankees, has been the most effective player in Major League Baseball this season. After Friday’s loss to Tampa Bay, he had a .294 batting average with a significant league-leading 51 home runs and a 1.059 on-base plus slugging percentage. The closest hitter to him in the house run race, Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber, had 36.

At 6 feet 7 inches — and 282 kilos — Judge is the tallest person in baseball history to have a 50-homer season, and he has done it twice. In fairness, fewer than 150 players of that height have reached the foremost leagues, the overwhelming majority of whom were pitchers.

After ending second within the American League Most Helpful Player Award race in 2017, Judge may finally claim the prize this yr if he can hold off Shohei Ohtani, the two-way star of the Los Angeles Angels.

How long Judge, 30, will proceed to shine in a Yankees uniform is unclear. In spring training, he placed a bet on himself, turning down a contract extension that will have guaranteed him $213.5 million over seven years. The bet will likely repay, as he is probably going get an excellent larger deal given his performance and each the Yankees and Judge have said they need the connection to proceed. But negotiations are paused until after the season, when the 29 other teams will pursue him as well.

As front offices weigh how much it can take to sign Judge, they have to ask themselves how much he’s value and for a way long. He turns 31 next season, across the age when players traditionally begin to say no. (Superstars, though, are sometimes the exception to this.) With Judge, there’s the added complication of his size.

A prevalent belief across the game is that giant players break down faster than their smaller peers. But it surely is value asking: Is that true?

“That is such an advanced query,” said Jimmy Buffi, a former Los Angeles Dodgers analyst who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and who’s now the chief executive officer and co-founder of Reboot Motion, a sports biomechanics company. “I don’t think there’s a simple yes or no.”

First, some context. Baseball players are available in all sizes. Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros second baseman who beat Judge for the 2017 A.L. M.V.P., is listed, perhaps generously, at 5-foot-6 and 166 kilos. Daniel Vogelbach, a chosen hitter for the Mets, stands 6 feet tall and weighs 270 kilos. And Oneil Cruz, a rookie shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is 6-foot-7 and weighs only 220 kilos.

Judge is as tall as Cruz, heavier than Vogelbach and higher than each. Pictures of Judge next to Altuve are one in all baseball’s longest running sight gags.

Granted, heights and weights have been embellished in either direction over time, but in line with Baseball Reference, only seven position players have been listed at 6-foot-6 or taller and 250 kilos or heavier. They’re Adam Dunn, the previous slugger generally known as the “Big Donkey,” who amassed 462 profession home runs; Frank Howard, the previous Washington Senators star, who smashed 382; Judge; and the previous outfielders Kyle Blanks, Brad Eldred, Steven Moya and Val Pascucci.

(Judge’s teammate Giancarlo Stanton, a former M.V.P. who has dealt together with his fair proportion of injuries, just missed the cut at 6-foot-6 and 245 kilos.)

The explanations for baseball having so few players of Judge’s size are debatable.

“Perhaps there haven’t been so many guys this size will not be only due to injury stuff but additionally due to performance,” said Glenn Fleisig, the research director on the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala. “Hitting a baseball and throwing a pitch, this takes perfect or excellent coordination to do these items. And the larger your body parts are, the more potential you may have, however the tougher it’s.”

Judge thinks it is perhaps something else.

The rationale there aren’t “100 more of me” in M.L.B. “is because they’re either playing basketball or football,” Judge said.

A big, expert basketball player can get drafted into the N.B.A. after one yr of school and quickly earn seven figures. A football player, he said, can go to a university that has higher facilities than some major league teams and might play within the N.F.L. immediately after getting drafted. Baseball, where eligibility is more complicated and making the majors typically involves years of low pay within the minor leagues, is “a tougher draw for some kids, especially my height,” he said.

Putting aside the explanations for the smaller amount of massive M.L.B. position players, biomechanics experts said those people could theoretically be at greater risk of some kinds of injuries. Of the seven supersize position players, only three have appeared in greater than 300 profession games: Dunn (2,001), Howard (1,895) and Judge (699).

“It’s hard to remain healthy,” said Blanks, who’s 6-foot-6 and was listed at 265 kilos while playing 278 games over seven seasons. He handled a spread of injuries (elbow, shoulder, Achilles, calf) and suggested that each his form of play and a switch to the outfield from first base were possible aspects. “And I personally wouldn’t argue it’s harder as a giant guy, but that’s because I’m not anybody apart from myself.”

Smaller players actually get hurt, too. Altuve, for instance, has been on the injured list five times since 2018. So wouldn’t the damage and tear of playing baseball be relative to the person’s height, weight and strength? Not exactly.

Although Buffi said far more remained to be studied in regards to the movement of the human body, he pointed to a 2019 study published within the American Journal of Human Biology that found that the skeletons of taller people weren’t simply proportionally expanded versions of shorter people. In taller people, researchers found “a big increase” in the proportion of body mass that was bone, especially within the limbs, and thus a possible explanation for the correlation between height and fracture risks.

“There’s theoretical the reason why an even bigger person is perhaps more liable to injury, which is just that their bones are proportionately somewhat bit greater,” he said. He added later, “It’s also theoretically possible that an even bigger person, because they’re using the identical or similar sized bat as a smaller person, they’re exerting less effort to swing that bat and to make contact with that very same size baseball. There’s just competing aspects in each directions.”

Fleisig divided baseball injuries into three groups: impact, traumatic movement and chronic movement.

So far as impact injuries — getting hit by a pitch or colliding with an outfield fence, for instance — he said he didn’t see how being larger would increase the possibility of injury. Regarding traumatic movement injuries — pulling a hamstring while running to first base, say, or tearing an oblique muscle on an ungainly swing — Fleisig said “those are less related to your body size and more related to being in proper conditioning, including warming up and likewise hydration and nutrition.”

But size, he said, generally is a think about chronic movement injuries, sustained from a repeated motion reminiscent of throwing from the mound or outfield. While a bonus of longer levers — forearms, on this case — might be the creation of more force and thus more velocity on the hand, a drawback might be more tension on ligaments and tendons, which could cause them to tear.

“Greater people as a gaggle can have stronger muscles,” he said, “but what’s weird is your ligaments and tendons don’t strengthen proportionally with the muscles.”

Several experts said that one in all the largest predictors of future injury was past injury, whether those injuries were a results of an absence of coaching or in the event that they indicated a predisposition to a certain style of ailment. After playing 155 games in his rookie season, Judge appeared in just 63 percent of the Yankees’ games from 2018 to 2020 due to a wrist fractured by a hit-by-pitch, a strained oblique and a twice-strained calf.

Since then, Judge has been relatively healthy. He played in 148 games in 2021 and had missed only 4 of the Yankees’ 132 games this season, through Friday.

Judge believes his size is an asset, he said. Asked if any parts of the sport were harder, he smiled and said, “I got to bend somewhat farther for ground balls, but that’s about it. Fly balls are somewhat easier.” In reality, he has used the doubts about his height as fuel.

“It has sort of motivated me throughout the years,” he said. “Persons are like, ‘Oh, you’re 6-7, and you may’t do what this 5-10 guy does.’ Why can’t I? He can play shortstop, so why can’t I play shortstop? He can play the outfield, so why can’t I play the outfield? That’s just a simple thing people can just go to at times.”

Judge continued, later referencing amphetamines, a stimulant that was banned in M.L.B. starting in 2005: “The sport has modified, and there’s so far more information on the body, recovery and caring for your body. This isn’t the ’80s where I’m going out drinking every night and take some greenies and roll out to play. I feel it’s the emphasis on the recovery process and me learning my body over time sort of gives me a bonus.”

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