One of the main criticisms I had of the DJ LeMahieu signing was his general lack of power despite playing in Coors Field. Like almost everything I said about that signing, it’s turned out to be wrong. He’s hit a career high 18 home runs already to go along with a career high .197 ISO (not including Saturday’s game). So what’s behind it?
There are some modest differences in DJLM’s batted ball profile–compared to last year–that suggest some change. For example, he’s upped his line drive rate has ticked up by just over 3% and his ground ball rate has fallen by a little more than 1%. Generally speaking, more liners and fewer grounders mean more power. But the changes are so slight that it’s hard to believe that’s where the uptick in power is coming from. Let’s focus on the line drives for a minute.
Despite being almost universally good, line drives are like all batted ball types in that they’re not all created equally. This year, contrary to what the previous paragraph might suggest, DJLM is actually hitting to a lower average on liners with a lower slugging percentage than last year: .648 and .841 this year versus .688 and .875 last year. Despite that, his ISO this year is a touch higher on line drives at .193, a career high.
The focus here is on grounders and line drives because that’s the sort of hitter LeMahieu is. However, in digging for the reason behind his power surge, I stumbled upon some productivity in the fly balls he’s hit, something we wouldn’t normally expect from him.
DJ is hitting .337 on fly balls this year, a career high by far. His .980 SLG on fly balls is also a career high, and, thus, so is his .643 ISO. There’s a conscious effort behind this, too, it seems. He’s upped his opposite field percentage on fly balls to 47%. While this isn’t quite as high as it’s been in the past, it’s an increase over last year and one that makes sense given where he plays his home games now. If you’re a right handed hitter with opposite field power, hitting the ball higher, harder, and to right field makes a lot of sense in Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees hit an absolute home run–pun intended–with this signing. They saw a nominally good hitter and have done something to turn him into an even better one. Whatever they’re preaching to hitters they acquire from other teams is clearly working, as evidenced by DJLM, Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, and Mike Tauchman. LeMahieu has produced and been healthy, a pair seldom seen on the 2019 Yankees. It’s not a stretch to say he’s been the team MVP and he’ll likely get some consideration for the AL MVP award, even if I don’t think he should win it. Then again, given how wrong I’ve been about this signing, you never know.