It takes a lot for Aaron Judge to get overshadowed, yet here we are.
The rightfielder is enjoying what is by far his best season since his breakout rookie year of 2017, when he ran away with American League Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .284 with 52 homers and a 1.049 OPS.
Although Judge has not produced those power numbers this season, in some ways he has been better, and it’s gone a bit unnoticed.
Judge, currently in an 18-for-36 stretch, is hitting .299 with 30 homers and a .934 OPS. This season he has a career-low strikeout rate of 25.4% (compared to 30.7% in 2017).
"What you’re seeing," said one longtime rival AL talent evaluator who has covered the Yankees for years, "is him developing from slugger to hitter."
Aaron Boone said Judge’s overall "consistency" at the plate is what has most stood out to him (Judge has a 29.5% line-drive percentage compared to 26.3% in 2017).
"The consistency is just a product of him being a really good player, and he’s avoided some of those valleys [prolonged slumps] this year, and now we’ve seen him get hot," Boone said. "I just think he’s doing a really good job of, and I think it’s partly his experience now, taking away some of the strengths of the opposing pitcher. When you’re a great player and are able to do that, I think you put a little extra fear into the pitcher, probably net yourself some more mistakes. But I just feel like his experience is starting to show."
Judge went 2-for-3 with a homer Wednesday, but that performance was overlooked somewhat because of Gerrit Cole’s uber-dominant 15-strikeout effort over seven brilliant innings.
Earlier in the road trip, even as the Yankees ran their winning streak to 13 games, Judge to a degree was eclipsed by red-hot Giancarlo Stanton and some of his ballpark-rattling homers.
Cole said Judge has become the hardest kind of hitter to get out.
"I think when Aaron’s going really good, he’s got coverage in all four quadrants of the zone," Cole said. "It’s tough to make him whiff inside the strike zone. You really have to get him out of the strike zone if you’re looking for the swing-and-miss. And then the way that the swing is built, and where his true power is, which is to the gaps and almost more so to right-centerfield . . . If you watch him hit BP, he’s going 440, 445 feet to right-center. and so that timing to where if he can time up the fastball to the big part of the field, it allows him to cover other [pitch] speeds and other looks down toward the bottom of the zone, so that’s what makes him really tough to whiff . . . That approach is tried and true.
"I think the best hitters in the game have very similar approaches. Trouty [Mike Trout], same thing, and Miguel Cabrera back in the day, same thing. So it makes it all the more tougher when you have a power hitter that covers four quadrants."
For Judge, whose injury history has been well documented since he appeared in 155 games in 2017, the fact that he’s been able to stay in the lineup this season has been key (he has appeared in 119 of 133 games).
"That’s the most important thing, staying on the field," he said. "I’m not really running into too many walls or doing some stupid stuff out there that causes injuries. So when I’m on the field, I just try to do what I can for the team."
Aaron Judge’s improved approach at the plate has moved him into the top 10 of the American League in a half-dozen categories:
Batting avg. .299 (6th)
On-base % .389 (2nd)
Slugging % .545 (5th, tie)
OPS .934 (3rd)
Home runs 30 (10th, tie)
Walks 64 (10th)