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.