DJ LeMahieu Has Stepped Up His Game in a Serious Way

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Tony Wolfe of FanGraphs wrote up a very nice piece about Yankees fWAR leader DJ LeMahieu yesterday, filled with insight about how DJ has found success this year. He discusses DJLM’s ability to find success outside of Coors Field (this is another sign that park effects don’t know what to do with Coors) and compares his current hot streak (he’s hitting .424/.467/.717 since June 5) to his batting crown season in 2016. It’s worth reading in its entirety. Check it out.

Anyway, Tony also noticed something I was planning on writing up for today, but he beat me to the punch: DJ is really, really crushing off-speed and breaking pitches this year. Let’s get into this quickly.

Non-Fastball Success

DJLM really struggled to hit non-fastballs last year. Look at this:

That is…quite a jump. DJ has always hit fastballs the best out of all of the groups, while off-speed and breaking stuff has been more inconsistent after a clear peak in 2016. Last year, he really hit rock bottom. Look at his wOBA against fastballs, off-speed, and breaking pitches last year, with xWOBA in parentheses:

  • Fastballs: .356 (.363)
  • Off-Speed: .275 (.273)
  • Breaking: .254 (.254)

Pretty clear difference, there. More dramatic than ever in his career, really. DJLM struggled against off-speed stuff in 2018. As Tony pointed out, this is probably why pitchers are throwing more of them to him this year. Again, look at this:

It’s subtle, but you can see it. Since 2017, pitchers have thrown him fewer fastballs and more non-fastballs. This year, though, he’s really turned it around. Check this out, same as above:

  • Fastballs: .407 (.390)
  • Off-speed: .379 (.335)
  • Breaking: .398 (.406)

That is interesting, and it’s especially interesting that the contact profile (which is what goes into the expected stats) pretty much confirms that DJLM isn’t getting lucky. He’s genuinely crushing the ball, which I don’t think surprises anyone. We’re halfway through the year, so this isn’t the tiniest of sample sizes. It’s encouraging to see, and it’s something to watch as the year progresses.

High-Velocity Fastballs

I did see one other really interesting nugget from playing around with LeMahieu’s numbers that I thought was worth sharing, though: he’s absolutely crushing high-velocity fastballs. This is a new phenomenon for him, even though he’s always hit fastballs hard.

It’s useful to break this down a bit further by velocity, especially as we see more pitchers throwing hard these days. So I broke down DJLM’s stats against fastballs 95 mph or slower and 95 mph or faster since 2015, which is the earliest year for which data is made available. Check this out, with league average in parentheses:

DJLM vs. Fastballs 95 mph or slower

BASLGAvg. Exit Velocity (mph)
2015.338 (.282).451 (.453)91.3 (88.1)
2016.388 (.284).534 (.470)90.4 (88.5)
2017.299 (.284).392 (.479)89.0 (87.5)
2018.307 (.276).498 (.462)93.0 (88.7)
2019.314 (.280).479 (.486)93.2 (89.2)

That’s very good. He’s not a power hitter, so it’s normal to see some below-average power production here. It’s worth pointing out that 2018 was the worst year of his career by a significant margin in this category — consistent with the non-fastball results above. But it’s obvious: DJLM hits fastballs better than your average player. Circling back to an above point, kinda surprising this is how they attacked him, no?

Here’s how he did on high-velocity stuff, again with the average in parentheses:

DJLM vs. Fastballs 95 mph or faster

BASLGAvg. Exit Velocity (mph)
2015.247 (.248).294 (.380)90.3 (88.6)
2016.270 (.253).317 (.392)91.8 (89.0)
2017.284 (.244).405 (.392)90.2 (88.0)
2018.255 (.241).309 (.377)93.2 (89.0)
2019.514 (.248).657 (.410)95.1 (89.6)

That’s right. DJLM is hitting over .500 (!) on fastballs over 95 mph this year. As you can see, that’s twice as good as the average player. He is slugging about .150 points more than his average peer. The ball is leaving his bat at over 95 mph on such pitches. That’s insane. It’s nuts. I don’t know how else to say it.

A few things, though. The sample here isn’t huge (18-35) but it isn’t small, either. Again, we are halfway through the season. Second, even though the numbers take a predictable dive here, he’s still better than average in this department in his career. Third, he’s gotta slow down here, right? This just can’t be sustainable. It just can’t be. I don’t know if he’s made an adjustment here or what, but it’s certainly something. But hey, it’s Something To Watch.


Anyway, not really a huge, overarching point to make here. I’m excited to track this going forward, though–it’ll be interesting to see if the success against non-FBs keeps up, let alone to see if he returns to earth on high-velocity FBs. In the meantime, this is yet another absurd statistic for LeMahieu, who has proven, I think, every single Yankee fan wrong so far this year. What an addition.

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5 Comments

  1. Raymond Zayas

    This man is a problem, he’s my MVP this year. Absolutely raking, he’s been so fun to watch.

  2. RetroRob

    This is part of the Coors effect, but it’s one that is often ignored. Because it’s difficult to consistently throw quality breaking pitches in Colorado, players don’t see enough of them, making hitting more challenging when they go on the road for a week or so to adjust to quality breaking pitches. It alters their entire hitting approach. With DJ now hitting away from Coors all the time, there is no need to make constant adjustments between Coors and road games. We’re seeing the results.

    I’m not sure this would work as well for all types of hitters, but it certainly does for DJ’s Jeteresque style of hitting.

    • Wire Fan

      I’m a big believer in this theory and have always thought that the stats should not just have a home park adjustment but a road game adjustment for Colorado hitters.

      If my memory is good I think Matt Holiday’s adjusted #’s went up after he signed as a FA with StL, even though at the time folks were wondering if his #s were propped up by Coors. And I’m sure there are others.

    • lightSABR

      Isn’t it awesome? I’ve never been so wrong about a free agent signing.

      • Your a Looser Trader FotD

        Glorious time to be alive!

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