Since almost the onset of his career, DJ LeMahieu has been an impact player. With Gold Glove honors in 2014, 2017, and 2018, All-Star selections in 2015 and 2017, and a National League batting title in 2016, by the time the Yankees acquired him in 2019, it felt like we nabbed the NL’s best kept secret.
During the Next-Man-Up season of 2019, DJ proved himself invaluable for New York. When it sometimes felt like the Bombers could barely field a team of front line players, LeMahieu competed in 145 of 162 games and batted .327/.375/.518 with 197 hits, 33 doubles, and 26 homers. He added “2019 All-Star” to his resume while finishing fourth in AL MVP voting after the Yankees’ 103-win season. Although 2020 was shortened by the pandemic, LeMahieu did his part to keep up the pace, winning the AL batting title while also leading in OBP and OPS with a .364/.421/.590 triple slash, a 1.011 OPS. He also jumped up to third in AL MVP voting this time, a sign of just how much respect he had around the game.
General manager Brian Cashman thus looked like a genius for acquiring such an integral member of the lineup, and when his contract was up over the offseason, fans were urging the organization to write a blank check - anything to keep Le Machine in pinstripes.
Now, approximately two-thirds of the way through this underperforming 2021 season, we’re seeing a different side of LeMahieu, which has confounded even his staunchest supporters. Yankees Twitter — always a hot bed for opinions — seems to have resigned themselves to the fact that he may never again be the player with whom they fell in love in 2019.
While I myself would love to describe his struggles as he’s just having an “off” season, a closer evaluation of his career stats leads me to believe that the DJ we are witnessing is in fact the “Real DJ,” and 2016 and 2019 were mere aberrations. But no, this doesn’t leave me feeling hopeless, so hear me out and take heart, Yankee Universe.
Perhaps the best way to find a “normal” LeMahieu campaign is to look at the seasons of his career that weren’t outlier status (2016 and 2019) or incomplete (so no COVID-shortened 2020, or Cubs cup of coffee in 2011). DJ’s veteran status is helpful here because this still leaves us with six seasons of robust numbers. That would be 2012-15 and 2016-17, which we’ll call the “Normal DJ Era” for simplicity’s sake.
Over the course of these years, LeMahieu averaged approximately 136 hits, which is much more in line with the 137 he is on pace for for this season — as opposed to 2016’s 192 and 2019’s 197. After last night’s game, LeMahieu’s OPS sits at .706, which isn’t a far cry from the .730 he averaged in the Normal DJ Era.
In fact, LeMahieu’s OPS looks lower, but when weighted for ballpark and league averages, the OPS+ tells a slightly different story:
Normal DJ Era: 772 G, .289/.339/.391, .730 OPS, 85 OPS+
2021 DJ: 102 G, .267/.343/.363, .706 OPS, 97 OPS+
If anything, LeMahieu is hitting a little better than he did in those non-superstar years.
Since his acquisition, Yankee fans have been spoiled by LeMahieu’s seemingly superhuman ability and clutch hitting. These offensive statistics, however, help us to paint a broader picture and better manage our expectations. No player can have a career season every year, but this is where I find encouragement: We know, and DJ knows, what he’s capable of.
Even in LeMahieu’s most recent games, we’ve seen improvement and resurgence, and this doesn’t even take into account his irreplaceable utility in the field, especially with a season so fraught with injuries and COVID-19 diagnoses. The Yankees have stuck him at every infield position except shortstop for several extended stretched in 2021, and he’s been game every single time.
So while we maybe can’t expect to see superhuman DJ year in and year out, we know that his clutch hitting and flashes of brilliance may only be an at-bat away.