Are you tired of all the talk about DJ LeMahieu this offseason?
Well, I’m not.
The only reason I could be upset with all the attention LeMahieu is getting is it means the Yankees still haven’t re-signed him.
However, with a weak free-agent class, the by-product of playing in New York and coming off two MVP-caliber seasons, LeMahieu is receiving some much-deserved hype this winter.
The biggest praise of them all though? Being in the conversation for Major League Baseball’s best hitter.
Praise from other hitters
One week ago, Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette made the claim LeMahieu is tops in the sport. Bichette said, “I think DJ LeMahieu is the best hitter in baseball and I don’t even really think it’s close from what I’ve seen.”
No disrespect to Bichette, but he has only played 75 games in his young career, so he hasn’t been around the league for enough time to compare LeMahieu to a lot of players.
The rising star could have been hoping to draw LeMahieu’s attention to the Blue Jays—who have been rumored to have interest in him. Bichette then mentioned he’d love to have him in Toronto while speaking on teammate Ross Stripling’s podcast. So far, Bichette has played only against 14 teams in his career and the Los Angeles Angels are not one of them, so he hasn’t gotten the chance to see Mike Trout in the other dugout.
On the other hand, Bichette has played against Freddie Freeman and Juan Soto, and 14 games against the Yankees, more than any other team. But he’s also yet to match up with Christian Yelich, Jose Ramirez or Jose Abreu. Are any of those guys the best hitters though? Is it Trout and then everyone else still? Or is LeMahieu really the best hitter in the game?
Bichette isn’t the only one to honor LeMahieu with that distinction this year. In September, teammate Luke Voit had the same high praise for LeMahieu on Joe & Evan of WFAN Sports Radio.
“It’s like if you’re hitting behind him with two outs, you better be ready to hit because he’s probably getting on base,” Voit said. “He’s the best hitter I’ve ever seen, honestly. Pitches up or down, inside or outside—he doesn’t get schooled, and if he does, you’re shocked.”
Who’s to say who’s the best?
How do you determine the game’s best hitter though? Do you use Sabermetric stats like Offensive Runs Above Average and Weighted Runs Created Plus? Do you use Statcast to determine how many barrels and how hard of contact a player makes? What about the old-school stats of average and hitting with runners in scoring position? Or do you take the word of the players in the game? The pros that know hitting and face each other or play alongside each other all year?
What about thinking outside of the box? Could the best hitter in baseball be the one that is hardest to gameplan for? The guy that can hit it anywhere, who has a spray chart that covers the whole field and, especially in today’s game, can’t be shifted on?
Going down that route, you can conclude LeMahieu is the best hitter in baseball the last few years. According to Statcast, in 2019, three hitters with at least 400 plate appearances were never shifted on, DJ LeMahieu, Miguel Rojas and Dee Strange-Gordon.
You probably don’t need stats to tell you those other two hitters are not in LeMahieu’s league, but I’ll supply some for journalistic transparency. Rojas hit for a .284 average with a .379 slugging percentage and an OPS+ of 89–11 percent below league average. Strange-Gordon batted .275 with a .359 slugging percentage and 80 OPS+ on the year. Finally, LeMahieu hit .327 and .518 with an OPS+ of 135.
In 2019, right-handed hitters were shifted against 14.3 percent of the time, according to Statcast. Mike Trout saw a shift 37.5 percent of the time.
Is LeMahieu the leagues top hitter?
Naming the best anything is usually not too subjective of a task. You could look at close to a hundred different stats for hitters in today’s MLB and a lot of them will tell you a different story.
Fans don’t care about subjective or objective most of the time though. It’s about the conversation, the banter, the love of the game.
So, the best hitter in baseball? It could be DJ LeMahieu. Why not someone who isn’t prone to slumping, a guy that has as good an approach as any — one that does his job consistently and comes up with clutch hits.
That’s what we call a professional hitter, a pure hitter. And DJ LeMahieu might just be the best of those in the game.