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Aaron Judge has been remarkably consistent for the Yankees

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The Yankees’ best player is in the middle of a carbon copy season

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Last year, Yankees fans were treated to arguably the best rookie season in baseball history. Aaron Judge, fresh off 42 strikeouts across 84 plate appearances in 2016, entered the season batting in the bottom third of the lineup. He finished it by placing second in MVP voting. It set a standard for Yankees rookies that Gleyber Torres is doing his best to match, and potentially set all our expectations too high for the rest of Judge’s career.

A third of the way into 2018, and maybe our expectations were right where they needed to be. He’s got a 172 wRC+, one point off last year’s mark. His walk rate, always his best weapon offensively, is less than a percentage point different from 2017. For a player who is decried for being “boom or bust”, Judge has shown a ridiculous level of consistency to start his 2018 campaign.

What’s more remarkable than his own work, is the way that pitcher’s haven’t really changed their approach to him. Usually, when a rookie breaks out in a big way, the word gets out and opponents try different things. Maybe they feed him a steady diet of breaking balls, or work in a different area of the strike zone. Pitchers do something different and force the batter to adjust, and this adaptability usually determines his staying power in the majors.

Judge broke out in about as big a way as possible, and yet the response by pitchers has been tepid at best. They have barely changed their pitch selection.

Sure, Judge is seeing fewer fastballs - but not by much, and the difference is made up with a handful more sliders and changeups. The change isn’t particularly dramatic, however, especially when compared to another player who roared into the big leagues with an MVP-caliber rookie season.

Mike Trout saw a much more dramatic drop in fastballs, and a much higher percentage change in changeups following his rookie campaign, which for all of his greatness, was just a shade less valuable offensively than the Yankees right fielder’s.

Looking at Judge’s heatmaps, a similar pattern emerges.

There are some slight adjustments on the pitcher’s part, but overall the location against Judge is pretty consistent. Pitcher’s have actually thrown more balls over the plate in 2018 than last season, showing that Judge’s discipline may be the only thing teams are actively working around.

The one thing Judge is doing different this season? He’s taking far fewer swings. His O-swing rate — swings on pitches outside the zone — is down about four percentage points. That’s good, and shows he’s leaving pitches alone when he can’t hit them. His Z-swing rate, however, is down 550 basis points from last season, and that may be why his power has dipped somewhat. He’s simply not offering at enough strikes.

Now, part of this reluctance to swing probably stems from the fact that umpires get Judge’s strike zone wrong all the time. The big man faces the worst zone in the majors and the most balls called strikes, so it’s understandable that it may appear he’s swinging at fewer pitches in the “zone”. Other than that, just about everything Judge did last year, he’s on track to do this year.

Through about a third of the season, Judge is on pace for around seven and a half wins. That would put him back into MVP conversation in a non-Trout world. Unfortunately for Judge, this is not a non-Trout world. He will have to be content with staying at his elite level, even if it means coming second to Living Ted Williams. Like Trout, though, Judge is rapidly approaching a status where we can just pencil in his production as a given, and that’s the consistency of which teams dream.