It may be time to move DJ LeMahieu down in the order

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When Matt broke down DJ LeMahieu’s woes back in in early May, there wasn’t too much concern about the infielder’s outlook yet. It was just a little over a month into the season and even though his performance was frustrating, most of us were still preaching patience. Unfortunately, a month later, LeMahieu’s still searching for his 2019-2020 self.

Since Matt’s piece, LeMahieu has a .216/.284/.227 (47 wRC+) in his last 109 plate appearances. That includes just one extra-base hit (a double). A lot of Yankees have contributed next to nothing offensively, but LeMahieu’s lack of contribution at the top of the order is the lineup’s biggest issue, as Randy noted on Twitter yesterday. LeMahieu has been the team’s catalyst in recent seasons, so it’s no wonder the offense as a whole (sans Aaron Judge) has gone into the tank without DJ setting the table. Maybe temporarily switching out LeMahieu for someone else in the leadoff spot would help.

If there’s any solace, it’s that LeMahieu is hitting the ball harder of late. Decreased average exit velocity was an issue for him earlier this season, but that seems to be correcting itself:

Of course, exit velocity isn’t the end-all-be-all. LeMahieu’s line drive rate stands just north of 23 percent after pushing 30 percent over the last two years. Last night’s game was a good example of how DJ is hitting the ball harder, but still not putting his best swing on the ball.

Two of those three batted balls were classified as hard hit per Statcast (>95 MPH exit velocity), with the groundout against Matt Barnes just falling short at 93.1 MPH.

As you may have noticed, the batted balls against Garrett Richards and Barnes were fastballs right down the pipe. Hitting strikes, especially middle-middle ones, has been a huge issue for this team, LeMahieu included. It’s dumbfounding, to be quite frank. And of all the Yankees struggling to hit meatballs, LeMahieu has been the biggest culprit:

Yup, that’s fourth-worst in run value per Statcast on pitches over the heart of the plate in the majors. LeMahieu has been that bad, folks.

Separately, it’s also odd that LeMahieu continues to post higher swing-and-miss rates compared to the past. Matt already did a nice job documenting this in April, and since then, things haven’t improved. In fact, his strikeout rate has only continued to climb:

In looking at his rising strikeout rate in tandem with a continued lack of line drives, it’s evident that LeMahieu’s barrel control has taken a step back. We know he can still hit the ball hard based on the results so far, but he’s not squaring up like he used to.

There’s no quick solution here, but as mentioned earlier, one thing the Yankees may have to consider is dropping LeMahieu down in the batting order. I know it’s not ideal given that almost no one else has hit this season, but he’s more or less become an automatic out at the top of the lineup for the last month or so.

Personally, I’d strongly consider batting Gleyber Torres at the top of the lineup if we want to play the hot hand. Torres has hit .311/.376/.444 (132 wRC+) since May 1st. Gleyber’s power stroke is still missing, but at least he’s reaching base at a steady clip. Meanwhile, dropping LeMahieu to the bottom of the order may take some of the pressure off him to turn things around.

The Yankees are at their best with LeMahieu thriving in the leadoff spot, but at this point, I don’t think they can keep waiting for him to turn it around at the top of the order. It’s just not working out right now. Virtually nothing should be off the table at this point, including a lineup shakeup.

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20 Comments

  1. Willie

    As I mentioned after the previous post, DJLM had some good years and some mediocre years in Denver. The Yankees are deluded in thinking that a veteran player (age 30 or more) will suddenly get better as a Yankee and stay better. That almost never happens–O’Neill is the only player in the last few decades I can think of who’s the exception that proves the rule. I hope that DJLM is another case of this, but I think he won’t be able to duplicate the excellence of 2019, let alone 2020.

    • Mungo

      They based their original signing on his exit velocity, barrel rates, land line-drive percentage while in Colorado, recognizing that his approach would play well at Yankee Stadium and away from Colorado. They were correct. No one, however, expect him to be that good, just as no one should expect him to be hitting (or not hitting) like he is currently. His final year in Colorado also had DJLM showing his lowest BABiP. What we’re seeing now from LeMahieu is something he didn’t show in Colorado. Maybe he’s simply aged out quickly, or maybe it’s something to do with the ball, pressing, etc. I’d probably wait for a full season of data, and also see what happens when MLB now begins enforcing its anti-grip rule.

      • Wire Fan

        Yup

        I think the ball and YS were helping him. But the de-juiced ball obviously doesn’t explain all the drop off. I wonder if he has a nagging physical issue. His defensive #s are down too (at least DRS, UZR still likes him). Or maybe it is just a slump, fingers crossed. And I am too lazy to look it up but I wonder if his exit velo on line drives and flyballs is holding up. Sometimes you can’t see a change in aggregate exit velocity because a hitter is just hitting GB harder (and LD/FB softer)

        But his and Hick’s contrast are another byproduct of the damn LT. The out years in both of those contracts are not probably going to be pretty and I’m not sure the Yankees will be willing to eat/dump those until they have about a year left. The Hicks contract was especially a headscratcher considering he has had only one season with more than 400 PAs and he is clearly going to have to move off CF before the end of it.

        • Mungo

          If I had to venture a guess regarding Hicks, the Yankees were looking at a market where starting CFers were scarce. Frankly, they’re still scarce. I’m not sure who the Yankees would even target to replace Hicks next season, if that’s their eventual goal.

          That scarcity was one of the reasons the Dodgers, about a month prior, signed AJ Pollock to a 4/50 with a potential 5th year vesting player option for another $10-20M that would also take Pollock through his age-35 season. I don’t believe the Yankees or the Dodgers ever intended either Hicks or Pollock to be their CFers in their mid-30s. The Dodgers have already been able to move Pollock off full-time CF status with the arrival of other players, including Bellinger. Signing a Pollock or a Hicks is exactly what a team with money should do. Pay for the scarce skills now, and then move them off to other positions. The Yankees goal was likely to have Hicks play CF for the first three of four years and almost assuredly then shift him into the all-purpose 4th OFer role that Gardner serves, with the advantage Hicks can also cover RF with a very strong arm, something Gardner can’t do. My guess is they were hoping Florial would be close, which unfortunately he’s not. They also can easily move him if they want to drop his salary down to $5M. Hicks is definitely not someone the Yankees should be worried about beyond his inability to stay healthy! Ditto for DJ. They’re already planning for DJLM not to be on their roster in years 5 and 6. That was simply a money game as you noted. It’s frustrating that the wealthiest team in the sport is playing these games.

  2. Brian M

    Mookie right now: .258/.372/.438
    Verdugo right now: .288/.348/.463

    Betts is probably the better player by the end of the year, but the Red Sox might have a worse record so far with Betts instead of Verdugo.

    • Esteddardban Florial

      The Sox always make the right moves. They saved millions trading Mookie. They got 2 relievers from us for peanuts as our relievers imploded. You look up and down their lineup and they had no .180 hitters. We have 5. They resurrected Eovaldi. Fox had Verdugo miced up Saturday night. Why can’t we have a great personality like that? If they miced up DJ he wouldn’t say more than two words.

    • MikeD

      Even with a slow start for Mookie by his standards, he still has a higher OPS+ than Verdugo and nearly double the WAR. Verdugo has a little over 6 WAR for his entire career compared to 48 for Betts, who has had two seasons with more WAR than Verdugo has for his career. Betts is building a HOF career. Verdugo is a nice player.

  3. dasit

    just leave him at leadoff. i wouldn’t risk screwing around with torres now that he’s turning it around. anyone not named judge, stanton, or voit may have to adjust their approach to match the dead ball. i expect frazier to turn it around. he’s not his 2020 version (no one is) but 2019 with better defense is realistic. i also believe in andujar. sanchez/odor/gardner are what they are unfortunately

  4. DZB

    I just saw the comments from Ken Rosenthal that the NYY plan is to remain under the luxury tax threshold, which I suppose is not surprising, even if it is depressing.

  5. mikenyc2007

    The thing is these guys are just people too…..i wonder how much the fact he has a newborn is impacting his work….without knowing anything…. baby’s health, sleeping arrangements, his commitment to fatherhood, wife’s attitude, in-laws staying over etc…all of these things are definitely a distraction in a normal life… but for someone as regimented as he is… you can imagine the mental ( and perhaps physical) impact of the kid is something to consider
    i was also going to say the same thing about Voit…these guys are finely tuned machines, and a few late nights, additional stress, sleeping on a chair, crappy hospital food, in-laws and family all over the place once a newborn shows up usually isnt conducive to optimal performance at work

  6. Esteddardban Florial

    Yeah but who are you going to move there instead, Bobby? .160 Bozo the Clint? .180 Gary? .190 Gardy? You can move Gleyber up there but that’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I think DJ got his payday and doesn’t give a crap anymore. He thought the club stiffed him in negotiations and it looks like they overpayed him. He’s fat and happy and this is what usually happens when guys get paid. And Boone couldn’t motivate a hungry lion to hunt a gazelle. You saw it yesterday after the Odor “strike 3.” It was left to Phil Nevin on his death bed to try to fire up the ballclub. There’s no fire, no urgency, just a lot of players who don’t care and that filters down from Hal to Cash to Boone to the players. You can put Gleyber, Judge, Stanton, Gio 1-4 but 5-9 are black holes. Gio Urshela should not be a clean up hitter but that’s the best they have and that’s sad. “Hard hitting” Chris Gittens doesn’t even hit the ball so I don’t understand that nickname. At least “Big Game” David Phelps earned it.

    • Moooooooose

      chill out, man. no need to accuse DJ of malicious resentment. that’s like the least accurate portrayal of his persona that fans get to be let into.

    • Glenn Dotter

      You are not far off the mark. Dj contines to hit to the right sid at people. Previously he lifted thos same type its over the head of 2nd basemen. Dont think Ive seen himpull a ball. Is Marcus Thames afraid to coach him? Boone is the main problem. Too predictable and not much of a motivator. Hes always saying We are almost there or we had some good at bats just at people. That is not a good at bat. Pulling chapman afte 1 inning and cessa has sucked as of late. Excuses excuses excuses. Boone need to go. Bring Giardi back

  7. Broussard Yankee

    Players sometimes go badly quickly. We saw that with Soriano, Rodriguez, and Swisher. I hope that is not the case with DJLM, as the Yankees are locked in to his contract for a long time. Maybe the Red Sox were not so crazy with Mookie Betts. They have a history of getting rid of aging stars, e.g., Clements, Boggs, Damon, Ellsbury, and Youkilis, rather than paying for their declining years. They are successful now with a group of no-name players, many young, while we are struggling with a group of overpaid and/or over-hyped and/or frequently injured players. Despite assertions how good many of these players are, is anyone really satisfied with the productivity from Stanton, Torres, Frazier, Sanchez, Voit, Gardner, DJLM? Even our one star, Stanton, has missed 40% of all games since 2017. Urshela, Chapman, Cole, and Stanton are the only members of this team worth watching now. If this team continues like this for the rest of the season, Cashman should take this team apart after the season.He should not make foolish trades of our best prospects to salvage a bad team.

    • Charlie Hirsch

      Yankees really need to consider selling not buying. Its time to rebuild.

    • The Original Drew

      Mookie Betts was responsible for the Dodgers winning a World Series for the first time since the 80’s. The Dodgers absolutely made the right move.

      Imagine how much better the Red Sox would be right now if they had Mookie Betts instead of Verdugo.

      • Brian M

        Mookie right now: .258/.372/.438
        Verdugo right now: .288/.348/.463

        Betts is probably the better player by the end of the year, but the Red Sox might have a worse record so far with Betts instead of Verdugo.

        • The Original Drew

          You’re talking about 1/3 of a season worth of AB’s. Mookie Betts is an perpetual MVP candidate. Verdugo is a good player, but this is his ceiling while right now this is Mookie Betts’ floor.

    • Wyld Timothy

      Judge??? No mention??? Stanton has been HORRIBLE!!! STAR?? Give me a break. No leadership present anywhere at Yankee Stadium from the owners all the way down to the mash at the bottom of the keg. This season reminds me of my youth watching them flounder with CBS sleeping at the helm…

    • Glenn Dotter

      Stanton is a pathetic waste of money. He is laughing all the way to the bank

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