Why Aaron Judge's Injuries & Inconsistencies are No Mistake

Since people seemed to enjoy our breakdown on the evolution of Gerrit Cole  I thought it was only appropriate to do another one for a hitter. Who better to review than his teammate in the original tweet. So let’s break down the evolution of Aaron Judge. Let’s start with some early footage from Judge back in college.

Watching him in college, my biggest takeaways are:

  • His forward move takes him up out of the ground.

He doesn’t get his weight into the ground, especially with his lead leg, so he can hit against it.

  • He lacks space and gets stuck because of it.

After he lands, his pelvis is open already and he strides either straight, or a little open. This takes away the space and room his upper body needs to work freely and directionally towards the ball. This happens to a lot of bigger, stronger, stiffer players because they often don’t understand the posture they need (hinge over the plate with trunk) or how to create space with their lower half.

  • His barrel is not connected to his rotation.

When great hitters land and their body starts to turn towards the ball, their barrel comes along with them. Think about it: When that front foot lands, the ball is 15 feet away and any move that has no impact on the barrel gaining ground toward the ball makes no sense. It’s the definition of lacking efficiency. There are a lot of different ways to manipulate the hands and the barrel and be a great hitter, but if the body is moving but the barrel isnt, by definition the swing isn’t connected. One piece moving isn’t affecting the other. Because he is stuck and lacks space, his barrel often gets stuck. 

First, let’s discuss his forward move here. If you watch close, you’ll notice how far into his back hip he is at the start of his forward move. Think of this starting position as starting a bench press from your chest and working up, rather than starting up top and working down to the chest and back up. As he goes forwad, you notice how his body elevates in the air. That move is problematic. Great hitters get into their front side to great the ability to (CONTINUE).

Now let’s look at Judge from the minor leagues:

Now let’s look at Judge from the big leagues:

Now let’s take a look at the swing where Judge got hurt in 2019:

Now let’s take a look at some of the best big men hitters in MLB history: 

Frank Howard (6’7 255 lbs.)

Dave Kingman (6’6 210 lbs.)

Dave Winfield (6’6 220 lbs.)

Dave Winfield (6’6 220 lbs.)

So how did Aaron Judge evolve into what he looks like today?

In the minor leagues, judge was performing (INSERT STATS). He then worked with an outside hitting instructor that shall remake nameless. This particular instructor believes that the back leg rotating, with the hands supinating into the ball, is the key to hitting. 

It is a well documented fact that Judge has worked with a hitting instructor that he gave some credit to for part of his swing. I won’t mention the name, but if your interested in reading more about it, pick up Swing Kings by jareddiamond . I bring this up, because the hitting instructor has a very specific way of teaching, & very specific drills he believes are the key to hitting. I wanted to explore those for a second to discuss how they may have influenced Judges movement patterns in both a positive, & negative way. 

The instructor often calls it rear legged hitting, citing the back leg needing to turn first under the body to rotate the hips, followed by a supination of the top hand to accelerate the barrel rearward behind the ball. He looks at hitting from an engineers perspective and believes that those moves create a torsion spring. 

Let’s start with the rear leg. He does these “one legged” hitting drills on the rear leg & often claims we only need our back leg to hit.

Now not only have I done them, I like them to feel how a small part of the body should work during the swing. When you balance on one leg and hit, you are locking your femur into place because you are supporting all of your weight on it, when you hit like that, your pelvis rotates around your femur. That’s EXACTLY whats supposed to happen when you hit, however, when we are actually hitting with both legs, we need our weight supported by joint centration of the LEAD FEMUR to create the best environment for that to happen. So that particular drill itself can create a good feel for some hitters. My only problem with it, is that a hitter going it needs to understand that they are striking the ball with their trunk, not their pelvis. If they think they are supposed to strike with their pelvis, they may over rotate and prevent the bracing and stability from happening because they re rotating too long.

Here’s the thing, teaching the back leg to rotate first to pull the trunk, is the total opposite of what that the rear legged drill is. The real thing being taught is incorrect. The feel isn’t a bad one, but incomplete on its own. 

There is a good chance that Judge continuously trying to create that feel and movement of the rear leg rotating first and pelvis carrying the rotation went too far. Sometimes feels can be good for a period of time to find a middle ground for a movement, but sometimes they go too far. It may have lead to poor positioning at landing, no more lead leg to hit against, tremendous over rotation without a good decel pattern, and pop goes the oblique. I mean, ask a medical professional like Dr. Emily Ferree how hard it is to tear an oblique. The pattern of movement has to be pretty messed up for that to happen.

Lets take a look at another MLB hitter woking with this particular instructor. Let’s take a look at Mr. Manny Ramirez. Notice how his lower body is moving here:

This is very similar to what we see from Judge, except Manny’s career is over, he’s one of the greatest hitters of all time, and he didn’t hit anything like this when he played.

Manny got to his front side:

Manny hit against his lead leg:

Manny got cross body with nasty decel patterns all the time:

Manny had adjustability, hit to all fields, and had a ridiculous combination of hit tool and power. This was all a direct result of how he moves.

Now let’s take a look at the hitter that has inspired so many in the hitting community. The one, the only, Mr. Barry Bonds.