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Why DJ LeMahieu is so valuable

Spelling his first name is easy. Spelling his last name is a little more challenging. Nevertheless, DJ LeMahieu was a rather underrated signing by Brian Cashman and company. At the time, it virtually signaled the Yankees bowing out of the Manny Machado sweepstakes, but giving the price tag, LeMahieu was a very shrewd signing at two years, $24 million.

Offense

Many point to LeMahieu’s offensive success as a product of being able to call Coors Field his home. That is definitely true: the stadium had ballpark factors above 1.000 across the board, meaning it is more favorable for hitters. However, LeMahieu brings much more to the table, and he is especially a good fit on this Yankees team.

One of the biggest gripes the past couple of seasons has been that the team strikes out way too much. On pitches in the zone, LeMahieu has made contact at a 91 percent clip, better than the league average of 83.1 percent. He also chases pitches less than the league average (22.9 percent versus 28.1).

He has a career 91 wRC+, but it has been noted before that this statistic over-penalizes Rockies players (due to playing at Coors Field). A more relatable statistic is DRC+, or “deserved runs created”. This stat looks at each individual hitter’s expected contribution. In other words, it does not assume that the play outcome is the same as the player’s contribution and it also weights different outcomes differently in regards to a player’s skill. Looking at this metric, LeMahieu has been very good, averaging 112.75 DRC+ over the last four seasons (100 is average).

He is not going to replicate the power demonstrated by other members of the lineup. He hit a career-high 15 long-balls in 2018, only four of which were at Coors Field. What he will bring to the table is his aforementioned ability to put the ball in play as well as his remarkable consistency. Even though batting average is a little outdated now, look at what LeMahieu has hit month-by-month over his career:

March/April

May June July August September/October
.307 .291 .283 .320 .295

.299

This shows that there are no periods of time when he goes into a prolonged slump. Furthermore, he produces in high leverage situations, having hit .303 in them throughout his career with an above-average 16.1 percent strikeout rate and 8.2 percent walk rate. He also uses the whole field as evidenced by the below spray chart that tracks batted balls with a projected distances of 200 feet or less.

Defense

LeMahieu is not only an offensive force. He brings with him three Gold Gloves, all as a second baseman. However, especially due to the injury to Miguel Andujar, LeMahieu is more likely to see time at third base. There is a rather stark difference in his play at the two positions: he owns a career UZR/150 of 4.6 at second and 0.0 at third. In fact, the last time he played third base was back in 2014, where he compiled a UZR of -32.5. For context, -15 is considered “awful”. At second base last season for the Rockies, he had a UZR of 11.0 (“great”). At the time of this writing, he has only played 295.0 innings at third versus 7487.0 at second, so it might take a little time but given his fielding skillset there is no doubt that LeMahieu can succeed at the hot corner.

There are many more stats one could delve into, but I think the picture is fairly clear. He has produced an fWAR of 2.0 and 1.9 in the past two seasons, and as of April 10, he is fifth in the American League with a .433 BABIP. LeMahieu is simply a pro on both sides of the field, and the Yankees may have gotten themselves a good deal for the next two years.

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