The Yankees know they have the talent to win their long-awaited 28th World Series title, but as it has been in year’s past, health could be the team’s kryptonite in 2021.
That health starts with the team’s biggest star in Aaron Judge.
When on the field, Judge is among the most valuable players in baseball, which he’s shown since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017. Since that season, Judge has been sidelined with a fractured wrist in 2018, an oblique strain in 2019 and would have missed the start of 2020 had it begun on time due to a broken rib and a punctured lung. In total, Judge has been out nearly 140 games over the past three seasons.
The 28-year-old is looking to change his injury narrative in 2021 with new workout regimens and a new mindset while he’s on the field. It starts with his work with Eric Cressey, who was brought on by the Yankees to oversee the team’s strength and conditioning department following a 2019 season that saw the team ravaged by injuries.
“My training stuff, we’re doing a lot of the Cressey programs, stuff we did last year and now going into this year, so it’s good to get two years of that under our belt,” Judge said. “But the yoga and less lifting, I’ve been doing a little bit of yoga every offseason. That’s kind of something I do typically.”
Judge said he hasn’t necessarily done less lifting than in years past, instead changing the nature of his lifting programs to hopefully help avoid adding to an already extensive injury history.
“Still lifting the same amount if not more,” Judge said. “I think it’s just changing how much I’m lifting, the movements you’re doing and the exercises you’re doing to keep your body primed and at 100 percent. Not really trying to break it down too much to where you’re playing the catch-up game all year. Sometimes that happens where you push yourself too much and try to catch up and recover, and sometimes that’s how injuries happen.”
Judge will take the same approach into games in 2021, hoping to be more mindful of his health, particularly when he’s patrolling right field. Judge’s injuries at the start of the 2020 season stemmed from a making a dive in the outfield down the stretch of the 2019 season, and he hopes to avoid those same situations in 2021.
"I’m a guy when I’m out there on defense…and the ball is hit in my direction…it’s my job to catch it,” Judge said. “If that means going through a wall or into the stands, I’m going to try to do it. That’s where over the years I’ve learned to work a little smarter and not harder. If I get a better first read or first step, it might help me not have to crash into the wall…If I can get a better first step and maybe get to some balls that I don’t have to dive for, my big body, 275 [pounds], diving for 162 games, it does a lot of wear and tear. But I think it comes back to playing a little smarter.”
Judge remains hopeful that his new workout and mindset tweaks will result in more games, which the Yankees would certainly embrace given Judge’s impact on the lineup. The right fielder boasts a .948 OPS across his five-year career.
“I think it’s going to make a big adjustment,” Judge said. “Especially a lot of the movement stuff that [Cressey] has us doing. A lot of work with the medicine balls, just getting those explosive movements. I feel like that’s where a lot of those things happen, just those quick kind of explosive movements. Just training a little more with that and a little less of straight bench press and squat I think is going to help out.”
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1