Even though the Yankees lost in meltdown-ish fashion on Friday against Washington, I’m going to do a very sports fan thing and take credit for reverse-jinxing Yankee infielder DJ LeMahieu.
During Friday afternoon, I did research for a piece about this piece, which is supposed to be about how he hasn’t quite gotten going yet. Then, he went out and hit two homers against the Nats. You’re welcome. I’m also taking a risk that this piece may be (further) obsolete by the time you read it Sunday morning, because he could have another big game on Saturday. With that out of the way…
While he’s had flashes, it seems like DJ LeMahieu hasn’t quite gotten going for the Yankees in the ways that he got us used to in 2019 and 2020. The two homer game brought his line up to .283/.372/.400, good for a .345 wOBA. The slow start the rest of the league is having gives him a 126 wRC+, though that’s even a drop off from last year (176) and 2019 (135). Essentially, DJ has spoiled us with the last two years.
We can attribute part of the (perceived) slow start to LeMaheiu’s relatively high strikeout rate. At over 16%, it’s his highest since 2015; luckily, this is coupled with a career high walk rate. You can read more about that combined issue here. Still, when I see a player like DJ hitting in the low .280’s with a .400 SLG (.117 ISO is his lowest since 2017), something seems off. And even if he’s never been a huge power guy, a .400 SLG tells me he’s not hitting the ball like he should or we’re used to.
Indeed, his average exit velocity this year–89 MPH–sits in just the 47th percentile of MLB. This is down from 86th last year and 92nd in 2019. Even his xSLG is low in terms of percentile rank at 38th, whereas it was 66th and 85th in 2020 and 2019 respectively. Let’s take a look at some zone breakdowns by exit velocity:
Below is a chart of the zone with exit velocities from this year. Notice the three zones that are under 90 MPH; no such boxes existed in the matching graphic from 2019-2020.
So there’s a hitch in process. There’s also a slight hitch in results. Check out his wOBA chart, with five blue spaces, all under .260. Between ’19 and ’20, there was just one.
On a more granular level with results, LeMahieu is sporting career highs in ground ball rate and pop ups.
More than any other time in his Yankee tenure, it seems, the Machine isn’t squaring up the ball like he normally does. Of course, given his talent and skill–and the two homer game on Friday–hopefully a big time run from him is coming.