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…
A win’s a win. After standing absolutely no chance against Max Scherzer, Brad Hand blew the save. And he coughed up the lead again in the tenth, I might add. Same guy the Yankees beat in Game 2 of the Wild Card series last season. They’ve got his number.
The Yankees eventually won this one in 11 frames, 4-3. You read that right: the Yankees won a game in extra innings. Feels like they’ve lost a million frustrating ones already this season. To the takeaways:
This had to be the most infuriating loss of the season, right? The Yankees haven’t played well in general this month, but sheesh, this one was ugly. The bats, which seemed to wake up over the weekend in Cleveland, couldn’t touch the remnants of Matt Harvey. Even still, Baltimore tried to hand this one to the Yankees in the eighth, but the team couldn’t capitalize. The 4-1 loss at the hands of the Orioles pushes the Yankees to 9-13, last place in the AL East. To the takeaways we go:
If there’s one Yankee hitter who doesn’t fit the mold of Three True Outcomes ball, it’s DJ LeMahieu. He’s a high-contact hitter who doesn’t walk a ton or knock a ton of homers. But this year, that script has flipped. Well, two thirds of it.
While DJLM isn’t hitting an inordinate amount of dingers, his strikeout rate and walk rate have gone up a lot this year. In fact, both his 18.3% K rate and 11% BB rate are career highs (numbers here and after accurate as of Saturday morning). The former hasn’t been nearly that high since 2015 (17.3) and the latter hasn’t ben nearly that high since 2016 (10.4). Since the strikeout jump is more drastic and, frankly, more surprising for LeMahieu, let’s take a look at that first.
Maybe he’s swinging more often, leading to more whiffs. This isn’t quite accurate. His swing numbers are up slightly on offspeed pitches, but down on fastballs and breaking balls:
If it’s not more swings overall, then, it’s gotta be the whiffs themselves. This hunch was a bit more correct. There’s been a slight uptick in his whiffs on fastballs, but it’s consistent with his 2019 levels. However, there have been big jumps against breaking and offspeed pitches.
Those are very drastic jumps. To illustrate them further, they’ve gone from 13.2 to 33.3 on offspeed pitches and 12.7 to 27.3 on breaking pitches. Those are big jumps. My gut instinct, then, was to check if LeMahieu was chasing pitches abnormally. The answer is mostly yes, with a big qualifier.
He’s had a rise in chase rate against breaking balls and offspeed pitches (I think there’s a pattern developing here), but his chase rate against fastballs has absolutely plummeted.
Maybe, then, he’s missing on those breaking balls and offspeed offerings. Let’s check.
Yup. The increases aren’t quite equal–much bigger on breaking pitches–but they’re there for both pitches. But, whiffs aren’t made just out of the zone. And, as Bobby detailed recently, missing pitches in the zone has been a big problem for the 2021 Yankees. That has held true, even for a hitter as skilled as DJ. Behold:
We can see jumps everywhere, with a pretty steep incline for breaking pitches and a dramatic incline for offspeed pitches.
It’s safe to say we’ve found the reason for the increase in strikeouts for the machine. But, there’s some silver linings to look at.
The pitches that seem to have affected him the most, changeups (33.3% whiff rate) and curveballs (46.2% whiff rate, 66.7% k rate), are the pitches he sees least often (10.8% and 9% respectively). And, let’s not forget, there’s been an increase in walks, too. Let’s end on the positive by looking there.
The biggest positive here is in the ‘chase’ zone. While we saw some increases there with non-fastballs, he’s still doing well in that zone: +4 runs and an 87% take rate, higher than the league average. Laying off pitches a decent amount out of the zone has been beneficial to him for sure.
The shadow zone is perhaps another key to unlocking the ‘mystery’ behind LeMahieu’s increased strikeout rates. He’s at -4 swing runs there, perhaps indicating that that’s where his swings and misses on breaking and offspeed pitches are coming from.
As I’m obligated to say, it’s still early. You’ll be reading this on April 25, with about 140 games to go in the season. I’d imagine the rates for both walks and strikeouts will fall for LeMahieu and we’ll see something closer to his typical performance as we go on. For now, it’s just a bump in the Machine’s path.
Today’s 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay certainly wasn’t as ugly as yesterday’s game, but that’s not saying much. The Yankees have set the bar pretty low this season and are now 5-9. Yes, it’s still early and there’s plenty of time to right the ship. But I must admit: I’m getting tired of writing about how this team is too talented to perform like this. While it’s true, it’s frustrating to watch. Get it together already.
On top of the general sluggish play, that this kind of performance continues to happen against the Rays makes it even worse. The Yankees have now lost four of five to Tampa Bay this season. Clearly, it’s not just about the Trop being a house of horrors for the Yankees, either. Tampa Bay has simply dominated the Bombers for a while now.
The Rays have won 17 of their last 22 games against the Yankees dating back to September 2019 (including Tampa Bay’s victory in the 2020 ALDS).