DJ LeMahieu has received some criticism this year, and rightfully so. After hitting .327 with a a 135 wRC+ in 2019 and .364 with a 176 wRC+ in 2020, he signed a six-year, $90 million deal to stay with the Yankees. While LeMahieu has struggled at times this year, what is the main culprit? And is he turning a corner late in the season?
Many will point to LeMahieu constantly hitting ground balls. However, so far this season, his ground ball rate of 52.9 percent is below his career average of 53.3 percent. And here’s how it compares to the rates from the past two years:
Ground ball rate (%)
This year’s rate is not far off from his normal one. In fact, he was hitting more ground balls last season. Is he hitting as many fly balls?
So while he did hit a good amount more ground balls in 2020 as compared to 2019, it didn’t hurt his performance at all. Additionally, he is hitting .246 on grounders this year compared to only 1.80 on fly balls. However, his ground ball rate and wRC+ do seem to be negatively correlated. For example, most recently, his ground ball rate has gone down a bit and his wRC+ has gone up.
But some people also point to the deadened balls, and this could make some sense, as his hard hit rate is much lower than in years past:
Hard hit rate (%)
Oddly enough, his barrel rate of 2.9 percent was in the bottom nine percent of the league in 2020. This year he is up to 3.6 percent, but it’s still a far cry from the 7.5 percent clip he put up in 2019.
So with the decrease in the amount of balls he hits hard comes the decrease in expected batting average. In fact, all of his expected stats are down:
0.309 (top 2 percent of MLB)
0.308 (top 4 percent of MLB)
There doesn’t seem to be much difference in how pitchers are pitching him in terms of pitch selection. The past few seasons it has been around 65 percent fastballs, 25 percent breaking pitches, and 10 percent offspeed. And DJ tends to do well across the board — in terms of expected batting average. He doesn’t usually have a particular pitch that constantly gets him, as you might think with Giancarlo Stanton and offspeed pitches. However, LeMahieu’s numbers against offspeed stuff this year are down, but the actual numbers are much lower than the expected ones:
So perhaps he is just running into some bad luck on offspeed pitches. For fastballs and breaking balls, his actual and expected stats are fairly similar.
Turning a corner?
In the month of September, LeMahieu is hitting .319 with a 113 wRC+. Granted, it has only been 13 games and 55 plate appearances, but we know what he is capable of doing. If he keeps up his recent production at the plate, he definitely a valuable player, especially with his +1 OAA this season in the field and ability to play multiple infield positions. Plus, his Baseball Savant summary still looks quite good:
Will he ever live up to his contract? I don’t know, we’ll need a few more years to decide that. But right now, his value isn’t too far off from a $15 million AAV player.