After two seasons of MVP-caliber play, DJ LeMahieu has been even better in the Bronx than he once was as a batting champion in Denver. If he can keep it up over the course of his new contract, he might just earn a new level of respect from Yankees fans that is normally only reserved for the upper echelons of pinstripers.
2020 Stats: 216 PA, .364/.421/.590, 10 HR, 27 RBI, 9.7 K%, 8.3 BB%, 176 wRC+, 2.5 WAR
2021 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projection: 651 PA, .300/.355/.458, 20 HR, 76 RBI, 13.8 K%, 7.5 BB%, 115 wRC+, 4.1 WAR
While LeMahieu certainly benefited some from the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field — as demonstrated by his drastic home and road splits — Yankee Stadium has proven to be an even more offensively potent home for him. When he won the NL batting crown in 2016 at .348 during his best season in Colorado, he finished the year with a wRC+ of 154 at home, but just 101 on the road — the difference between an average hitter, and one who is 50 percent better than the league’s mean.
In New York, the disparity between LeMahieu’s home and road splits have been even more striking. During his first year in the Bronx, DJ’s home wRC+ was 157, and still 116 when on the road. The 2020 campaign exacerbated that trend even further. LeMahieu finished the shortened season with a preposterously high 256 wRC+ at home, but just 98 on the road.
LeMahieu has reached new heights with the Yankees by becoming an even better hitter, as evidenced by his improved road numbers, but most notably by exploiting the specific allowances of Yankee Stadium. By adding a hair of lift to his swing built for consistent line drives to the opposite field, LeMahieu’s subsequent power boost allowed him to transcend his station as an average big leaguer to one of the game’s best sluggers.
Before joining the Yankees, LeMahieu slugged over .400 in just half of his full big league seasons, posting a career high of .495 in the aforementioned 2016. He blew that out of the water in 2019 with a .518 slugging percentage, a rate he topped in 2020 when he finished with at .590, good for the 11th-best mark in the majors.
While sustained improvement at this impressive rate over the course of his new six-year, $90 million deal is less than likely, LeMahieu’s particular set of skills at the plate seem to mesh particularly well within the Yankees’ lineup and home ballpark. While it might be ideal to have a slugger who rakes on the road just as well as he does at home, it’s certainly better to have one who rakes than not at all.
Already 32, LeMahieu is likely around the corner from some regression, especially on defense as his footspeed continues to decline. However, his fundamentally sound approach at the plate and symbiosis with his home confines should enable him to put up great numbers relative to other second basemen through his mid-thirties. If he doesn’t, the length of his contract could make for an uncomfortable close to his tenure, however unlikely that may be. If the Yankees are able to get over the playoff hump in the next couple of seasons, “The Machine” could become this era’s “Warrior,” earning a legacy similar to that of former 30-year-old acquisition and four-time champion, Paul O’Neill.