DJ LeMahieu has batted almost exclusively leadoff this year, and with good reason. No Yankee is better at making contact than LeMahieu, which is the leadoff man’s chief job. If he gets on base, the rest of the order can drive him in and send him home. In kind, LeMahieu leads the Yankees with 50 runs scored this year.
Interestingly though, LeMahieu’s on-base percentage isn’t that impressive for an All-Star leadoff hitter, at .360. That’s only 46 points higher than his batting average. When you look at it deeper, it kind of makes sense – LeMahieu’s walk rate is below average at 6.5 percent. He gets a lot of hits, but he isn’t doing much else to get on base.
Sometimes, when a batter’s average and on-base are this close together, it points to possible regression. When the batted balls stop finding holes, both figures will drop because he’s not adept at working walks. However, there’s no reason to fret about this with DJ LeMahieu, because there just aren’t many batters better at getting hits than him.
LeMahieu has always hit for a high batting average, but interestingly, he’s doing it in a different way this year. He’s swinging at 47.2 percent of pitches he’s seen this year. That’s a lot! It’s slightly above-average league-wide, and the fourth-highest total on the Yankees.
Predictably, if LeMahieu is swinging almost half the time, that means his at-bats probably aren’t very long. And, they’re not. He only sees 3.66 pitches per plate appearance – that’s the lowest on the Yankees.
It’s pretty atypical for a leadoff man to be a free swinger and not work the pitcher, but it’s working for LeMahieu. Even though he’s swinging more, his contact and whiff rates are about the same. This means he’s actually making more overall contact than in years past, as he has sustained his previous efficiency while swinging more often.
This change didn’t come overnight. LeMahieu’s swing rate has really increased over May and June, in particular. LeMahieu has actually hit for far more power over those two months than he did in April. Is it just a coincidence? Maybe, but it stands to reason that the more aggressive LeMahieu is, the more power he’ll run into.
The Yankees followed a pretty strict formula for leadoff batters over the past few decades. Guys like Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Hicks took a lot of pitches and ran wild on the basepaths. LeMahieu does neither of these things, but he’s still been the Yankees’ best leadoff hitter since peak, mid-2000s Damon.
DJ LeMahieu has one of the most unique batted ball profiles that I’ve ever seen. He has an innate ability to make contact, and he knows it. Successful hitting is all about making adjustments over time, and DJ LeMahieu’s newfound aggressiveness has paid off big time for the Yankees this season.