Reexamining DJ LeMahieu’s Batted Balls

Before we get into anything else, I need to admit something: I was wrong about the DJ LeMahieu signing. I thought it wasn’t going to work out and said so. But then DJ LeMeahieu went on a tear that’s lasted pretty much all season. If you were going to make a case for him as team MVP, it wouldn’t be an outlandish one.

Through 52 games and 226 plate appearances, he’s hitting .314/.364/.456, good for a .351 wOBA and a 119 wRC+. The walk and power numbers–7.1 BB%, .142 ISO–are lowish, but so is his strikeout rate (13.3%) and his high contact profile at the plate gives him a dimension the Yankees have lacked, seemingly since Robinson Cano left the team.

The last time I wrote about DJLM, I wrote about his seemingly strange batted ball profile and how he was succeeding with it. At the time I wrote that piece, he was 28th in the Majors in average exit velocity. Now, he’s fifth among players with at least 170 batted ball events, clocking in at 91.7 MPH. Back then, he was in sixth place for batted balls at or above 95 MPH. Now he’s fourth with 83 and also in fourth for percentage of balls at or above 95 MPH (48%).

He’s still doing this all without hitting the ball overly far. His average batted ball distance–156 feet–is 28th out of 32 qualifiers. His average home run distance is also 28th out of 32 at 388 feet. These lowish marks aren’t much changed from last time, but like back then, they demonstrate that LeMahieu can be successful at the plate without hitting the ball far or walloping it over the fences. This is a stark contrast to the other players the Yankees have built their lineup around, like Luke Voit, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. Those guys hit the ball as hard as DJLM, just much farther. And that’s okay! There’s more than one way to be successful at the plate and his is just different than theirs; regardless of style, it’s worked so far.

DJLM: Good at hitting baseballs. Via BaseballSavant

All of these numbers say that LeMahieu has been as advertised (even if yours truly didn’t buy that advertisement at the time): a low-walk, low-strikeout, low-power, high-contact hitter. Given his great performance so far and his proclivity for timely hits, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees being as good as they are without him having been here. So far, this is another W for Brian Cashman and his front office team.


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    *correction* Gio had 500 ABs (499) in his first 3 years, but point is a player can improve.


    Often read people say in his first 3 years, Gio just 225 he can’t be this one mentions that his first 3 years comprised only 400 ABs..that’s barely one MLB season..I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think a player can improve after 400 ABs

  3. RetroRob

    His line-drive, opposite field approach is Jeter-esque.

    His ability to hit the ball hard but do so with an average batted ball distance of only 156 feet is an advantage. Unless the ball is hit right at someone, there’s shorter reaction time for the fielders to get to the ball.

    DJLM and Urshela add a nice dimension to the lineup. I liked the DJLM signing figuring he was a solid upgrade from the “Neil Walker role.” I’m still not buying Gio at these levels, but totally want to be wrong on him.

  4. dasit

    the yankees pro scouting department is second to none. i won’t be surprised if breyvic valera turns into a legit contributor

    • overseasyankeefan

      Indeed the Yankees’ pro scouting and analytic departments did a wonderful job on the above-mentioned four. DJ LaMehieu was a relatively known product though there were no rumblings linking to Yankees before his signing. The other five – Didi, Chad Green, Hicks, Voit, and Gio – have been kudos to the front office’s shrewd moves that eventually unlock their untapped potential!

    • Kevin

      True, but to be fair totally missed on Caleb Smith.

    • Kevin

      Stole Gio and Voit.

  5. fatrexhadswag

    Count me in the official, “I fcked up my analysis of the LeMahieu signing” category. He’s been a revelation and he’s clearly the type of player who you can only fully appreciate if you watch him every game. I’m all about metrics, but it is refreshing and more fun to watch small ball every once in a while and DJ is the type of throwback perfectly suited for that. Love this guy.

  6. Nathan Zimmerman

    It seems as if DJLM is not so concerned about “launch angle” and follows the old school style of hitting; think up the middle and hit line drives.

    • Kevin

      He’s better off ignoring launch angle.

  7. overseasyankeefan

    Consistency is the key. Consistently productive, especially when runners are in the scoring positions, has been his calling card so far and that’s not to mention his platinum glove defense! Easily my favorite Yankee not named Aaron Judge so far this 1/3+ season. Can’t praise enough for this under-the-radar signing by the front office!

  8. Madugador

    You’d think the way LeMahieu is hitting he’s due to cool off but his Babip is right in line with his career number and his wOBA=.354 with xwOBA=.353. He’s hitting the ball harder with a better launch angle than at any other time in his career. All hitters slump at some point in the season but what LaMahieu is doing right now isn’t just luck.

  9. Ramon De valencia

    I would like to see another post like this but with Gio Urshela. That has been real surprise for all us, even for a Colombian like me.

    • overseasyankeefan

      He changed his stand (can’t remember where the GIF demonstrating his before-and-after adjustment was) and other mechanic tweaks. It’d be nice indeed to see his hitting profile a la this post :-).

    • fatrexhadswag

      So, I’m not the analyst these guys are, but a few things on Gio. First, he’s probably going to regress, basically no one hits for a .388 BABIP unless they’re a burner like prime Kenny Lofton. Gio isn’t a great athlete, so no matter how good his contact is, that will likely decline.

      HOWEVER, his batted ball profile suggests his hitting isn’t a fluke. His LD% is at 30.3%, 3x higher than his career average of 9.1%, his hard hit % is at 45.2%, more than double his career 21.2% mark. When you barrel the ball up and hit it hard and on a line, really good things happen. Couple that with a k% 5% below league average and you have the makings of a solid hitter.

      Is Gio Urshela a batting champion? Probably not, but have these adjustments turned him into a really good MLB hitter? I’m starting to believe. Couple his offense with defensive acumen and this kid is a borderline all star.

      • madrugador

        I agree, his hitting is not a fluke. He won’t hit at a .388 Babip clip but he has fewer than 500 batted ball events so I don’t think we can say with confidence that he will regress to his career level of .293. His wOBA and expected wOBA are nearly identical (thought I saw that in a post here) so you are right, this is not all luck. I can’t see the Yankees parting ways with Urshela this season but with Andujar due back next year, there won’t be enough room on this team for both.

        • RetroRob

          Rosters are expected expand to 26 players in 2020, with a cap on the number of pitchers. That means teams will likely be carrying an additional position player. The Yankees can hold both Andujar and Urshela, assuming Urshela continues his magic hitting ways.

          Your overall point though about “room” remains since both can’t start, yet the Yankees will first need to see that Andujar has recovered from his shoulder surgery. That’s no small assumption. I’m not, for example, unconvinced that many of Greg Bird’s issues with hitting velocity are connected to his shoulder surgery. That means it’s to their advantage to keep both Gio and Andujar until they can determine Andujar’s skill level post surgery, and if Urshela’s batting approach is sustainable. Not to mention, attempting to trade Andujar would only bring back pennies on the dollar until he shows he’s all the way back. The proposed roster expansion will help the Yankees here.

        • overseasyankeefan

          Room on the roster for whomever more often than not has a way to sort it out on its own. It’s such a cliche but so true. The outfield “logjam” last year (and this year to some degree) is a recent reminder that depth could disappear in a hurry. When push comes to shove, the front office has won sufficient benefits of the doubt about whom to keep and trade away.

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