Yesterday couldn’t have gone much worse for the Yankees. As if losing a lopsided game to an atrocious Orioles ballclub was bad enough, they also lost two key players: Gerrit Cole (COVID-19) and Gio Urshela (hamstring). Injuries happen, especially in the pandemic-era of MLB, as frustrating as it may be. The loss to Baltimore, however, was inexcusable. The O’s tried to let the Yankees back into the game a couple of times to no avail. Unfortunately, DJ LeMahieu was right in the middle those opportunities and came up short each time.
LeMahieu’s in the midst of a very disappointing season. His .261/.341/.353 (96 wRC+) falls well short of expectations, particularly after his remarkable 2019-2020 campaigns (146 wRC+). His 0-for-5 yesterday decreased the Yankees’ win probability by 17.2 percent, only short of Andrew Heaney’s 19.5 percent. It’s hard to fathom how LeMahieu could fall off so drastically. Typically, LeMahieu is the guy you want up in big spots. Not this year.
Twice LeMahieu came to the plate with two on and no one out last night, with the Yankees behind in both instances. Here’s what he did:
Three outs in two at-bats. Just brutal. It’s no wonder why his WPA was the worst of the team’s position players.
Given yesterday’s performance and his lack of offense since the All-Star break (51 wRC+), I saw plenty of folks on Twitter clamoring for LeMahieu to move down in the lineup. I totally get it. Nearly two months ago, I suggested that the Yankees should drop DJ LeMahieu in the batting order. It’s probably time to revisit that. Anthony Rizzo, Joey Gallo, or Aaron Judge are better fits until LeMahieu figures it out.
If LeMahieu is going to turn his season around, he needs to start hitting fastballs with authority again. Ditto offspeed pitches, though I suspect his struggles against changeups relate to his difficulty squaring up fastballs this year. It’s as if he’s caught in between the two pitch types. In fact, you can see from the videos above that LeMahieu is way off balance on the changeups that Jorge López and César Valdez threw last night.
As bad as he’s been against offspeed pitches, they only represent 9.2 percent of all pitches thrown to him this year. It’s the fastball, which he’s seen nearly 65 percent of the time, that’s crushed him. This year, LeMahieu owns a .318 wOBA and .342 xwOBA against heaters. Those marks had never been below .371 and .382, respectively, while in pinstripes.
To make matters worse, LeMahieu has seen an even more drastic downturn against fastballs in the “heart” of the zone, as defined by Statcast. In that region, LeMahieu owns just a .291 wOBA and .337 xwOBA in 2021. In his first two seasons in the Bronx, LeMahieu had a .394 wOBA and .418 xwOBA against fastballs in the same location.
Those numbers confirm what we’ve seen all year from LeMahieu: he’s not doing damage against damage pitches. Sure, maybe he’s been a little unlucky as his actual wOBA trails his expected mark, but even the expected rate is well below what we saw since 2019.
Let’s take a look at some examples of fastballs down the pipe that LeMahieu is missing.
Granted, these are conveniently cherry-picked videos, but it is bizarre to see LeMahieu so late on fastballs right there for the crushing. I’m no hitting coach, but those videos and the stark decreases in wOBA and xwOBA against similarly located fastballs is very concerning.
Now, one thing we can’t overlook is a potential injury. We know that LeMahieu has dealt with a triceps issue that sidelined him recently. Who knows how long that’s been going on, or what else he may be dealing with this year. It would actually make me feel better to know that something is hampering him and that this isn’t a decline in talent.
One thing’s for sure: the Yankees really need to get LeMahieu going. He’s been the lineup’s catalyst in recent years and much of this season’s malaise has brought down the rest of the offense with him. It may finally be time to drop him in the order so he can work on things in a less pivotal lineup spot. And if he regains his footing: put him right back at the top where he can wreak havoc once more.