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DJ LeMahieu can hit anything, anywhere

DJ LeMahieu was certainly the team MVP last year. He put up an fWAR of 5.4, which is considered to be “superstar” level. In contrast, Manny Machado had a 3.1 fWAR, which lands in FanGraphs’ “good player” category. These fWARs translate to a 0.45 WAR/$1 million for LeMahieu versus a 0.10 WAR/$1 million for Machado. 

One reason LeMahieu was so good last year was because of his impeccable plate coverage. He could get a hit no matter where the pitch was located.

The average line drive percentage across the majors in 2019 was 25.5 percent. LeMahieu’s overall rate was 29.9 percent, and you can see that even on balls out of the zone he was still hitting line drives at a decent clip. 

Additionally, LeMahieu was one of the best at making contact on pitches out of the zone — the league average was 59.6 percent while DJ was at 72.7 percent. Of course, making contact on balls out of the zone doesn’t necessarily result in good outcomes. However, LeMahieu had a very good expected batting in nearly all zones, including those that were not strikes. 

So while he was chasing just slightly below league-average, he was making good contact on those balls that he chased. 

In 2019, LeMahieu was able to barrel up a higher rate of pitches than ever before in his career. Prior to last year, his career-high barrel percentage was 5.2 set in 2018. He upped it all the way up to 7.5 in 2019. For comparison’s sake, the league-average was 6.3.

Here is a chart that depicts runs above average in different parts of the zone. Overall, LeMahieu was worth +31 runs on chase or wasted pitches. Furthermore, he was great at taking pitches in the chase area, accumulating a +32 take runs. While his swing runs in that area was -9, his overall whiff percentage was 14.2 percent, good for the 90th percentile in the league (league-average: 24.3 percent).

We also know he consistently hit the ball hard, as seen by his rolling hard-hit rate, always above league-average.

Not only did LeMahieu have great plate coverage, but he also sprayed the ball all over the field. He was shifted on a total of zero times (league-average was 17.4 percent of the time). Of Yankees who had at least 100 plate appearances in 2019, Mike Ford had the highest rate of shifts put on him at 76.3 percent. The top chart is for LeMahieu, the bottom one is for Ford.

Some people may take LeMahieu’s 2019 to be irreproducible, but if he can continue to utilize his outstanding bat-to-ball skills, I see no reason to believe he can’t be another top-5 MVP candidate whenever baseball returns.