Who is DJ LeMahieu?
If you take only his 2019 stats, he’s one of the elite contact hitters in baseball who finally put a power game together. Career highs in ISO and SLG, and 11 more home runs than his previous career-best pushed him from mediocre leadoff hitter into legitimate offensive force.
He’s made a career of inconsistency, with two seasons of 130 wRC+ or better, and four full seasons with a wRC+ below 100. The key to his 2020, and thus the key to what would likely be his only chance at a big free agent deal, was replicating his power and avoiding the decline to below-average offense unlike the end of his time in Colorado.
We’ve yet to see how he does in the real 2020 season, but in our simmed version in MLB The Show, he’s become quite a different hitter than the contact-driven leadoff type he’s always been.
LeMahieu’s isolated power is a couple ticks better than his 2019, and he’s on pace, through 60% of the season, to match his career-best 30 HRs from last season. Yet his other metrics are, well, underwhelming. The power is still there, but the contact has begun to slip.
In a lot of ways, this is actually a transition that wouldn’t be that surprising for any player to make. Advances in defensive positioning, deeper bullpens and an overall focus on strikeouts from a pitching perspective makes contact less likely, and less valuable overall. This is a big reason why teams worry less about strikeouts than ever before, and more and more hitters focus on elevating the ball and hitting it over the fence.
It would appear that DJ’s season follows that pattern well. In previous years where he’s taken offensive steps back, it’s been a decline across the board — where his average falls as well as his power. In this sim, the power is almost identical to last year, while it’s been the “pure” hit tool that’s regressed, which would suggest to me that this is “intentional”, or at least, the sim has produced a change in approach more in line with most current MLB players.
Should a similar change occur in the real world, it would make a fascinating case for DJ’s impending free agency. He’s on pace for a seven-win season, which indicates in the sim that his defense is even better than it was in 2019 — or he’s spent less time at less-valuable first base — and leaguewide offense is down compared to last year. Free agents whose value comes from the glove don’t tend to do all that well, especially over the age of 30, but patience and power does do well on the market.
This probably isn’t the season we’ll get from DJ LeMahieu in 2020. I think some regression is likely, but he has shown pretty consistent contact ability, subject to the whims of defense and BABIP. His free agency case will be a fascinating conversation whether he maintains power or not, and his simulated season indicates that part of his game could be here to stay.