DJ LeMahieu, a two-time all-star and three-time gold glove award winner in Colorado, came to the Yankees as a free agent with very little fanfare last offseason. While all eyes were on Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Patrick Corbin, Brian Cashman quietly picked up LeMahieu on a two-year $24 million deal with a plan to use him as the Yankees’ infield swiss army knife.
It couldn’t have gone much better than it did, as LeMahieu went on to slash .327/.375/.518 and finish fourth in American League MVP voting. There’s no doubt the Yankees, and LeMahieu, would love to replicate his 2019 success in the second year of his contract with the Yankees.
What is it that turns a 2.1 WAR player into a 5.4 WAR player like LeMahieu in 2018 and 2019? A huge boost in offensive production, especially in the power department. LeMahieu slugged .409 in 2017 and .428 in 2018 — while playing his home games at extremely hitter friendly Coors Field — before slugging .518 in his first season in New York. In 2019, LeMahieu tapped into more power with a career high 6.7 launch angle. He previously won a National League batting title with a 4.8 launch angle, but his ISO that season was 44 points lower than his ISO in 2019. If LeMahieu is to replicate or improve upon his magnificent Yankees debut, he’ll likely look to maintain that higher launch angle.
The UCLA product was also more aggressive at the plate last season. No matter the pitch type, LeMahieu swung at a higher percentage of pitches in the strike zone than the previous two seasons, according to Statcast.
Early in his career, LeMahieu might have been a bit over aggressive, and he became more selective in 2017 and 2018. It appears he found a happy medium last season, and it paid off, especially against breaking balls. LeMahieu swung at 11% more breaking balls within the strike zone last season compared to 2018, and his xSLG of .538 against breaking balls was 99 points higher than his previous career high in 2017.
With a more aggressive mindset comes a tendency to chase pitches outside the zone, and LeMahieu did chase about 4-5% more pitches than previous years. However, his 13.7 K% was on par with recent seasons. LeMahieu is such a great contact hitter that he can afford to be more aggressive early in counts and not get burned by strikeouts. It also didn’t seem to matter what type of pitches opponents threw to LeMahieu last season, he hit everything at a high level. LeMahieu batted at least .319 and slugged at least .487 against all pitch types in 2019, something that couldn’t be said about any of his seasons prior to joining the Yankees.
He was also unfazed by his first regular experience at third base and first base when called upon. LeMahieu posted 130+ at bats at three positions and batted at least .315 at all three. If LeMahieu can maintain his higher launch angle, keep an aggressive mindset against all pitch types, and remain unfazed as he moves around the diamond, there’s little reason to believe he can’t be a force atop the Yankees’ lineup again in 2020.