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DJ LeMahieu’s importance to the Yankees

LeMahieu is the key to the Yankees’ ability to succeed.

MLB: New York Yankees at Texas Rangers Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

When the ALDS began, the Yankees decided to leave DJ LeMahieu off of their roster for the series. This stems from the toe injury that plagued him during the second half of the season, and it seems like the Yankees figured out the root cause and wanted to give him some time to recover from the injury.

The idea is not necessarily wrong, but it does have dire consequences for the Yankees’ roster construction. At the same time, he provided much needed batting versatility to the Yankees’ lineup. Without him, the Yankees’ lineup does not have the same ability to threaten the opposing team. A team never wants to allow a player compromised by injury to take the field when they are playing their most important games. However, by leaving LeMahieu off of the roster for the series against the Guardians, the Yankees severely limited their options for constructing the roster.

Just think about this for a second, the Yankees included Marwin Gonzalez on the roster instead of DJ LeMahieu. Gonzalez has been a very good utility player in his career, but LeMahieu would be a much better choice for that roster spot. Of course, this premise is based upon a healthy LeMahieu.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that LeMahieu was one of the best players on the team. In fact, his performance is a big reason why they managed to win so many games in the beginning half of the season.

DJ LeMahieu 2022 MLB Percentiles
Credit: Baseball Savant

When he is a part of the lineup, he offers the ability to make good contact while still walking and offering some power. This offers an important contrast with players like Stanton and Torres who strike out quite a bit. He also does not have the same downsides as Isiah Kiner-Falefa — IKF can certainly slap the ball around, but he lacks almost any ability to provide a high on-base percentage or power.

LeMahieu’s injury made it much more difficult to optimize their lineup. Having him available would have allowed them to drop Gonzalez from the roster. Just by doing this, it would have given Boone a greater ability to mix and match against the Guardians.

With Gonzalez as his defensive option off the bench, its a much harder call to make to pinch hit for someone like Donaldson or IKF. Yes, Boone could pinch-hit with Carpenter, but then he would have substitute him immediately with Gonzalez. That's a hard call to make in most situations. Gonzalez operates as the main backup for both the shortstop and first base in the case of injury or substitution, but his offensive capability is almost completely lacking.

With LeMahieu on the bench (or Donaldson if LeMahieu started), it becomes much easier to make the decision to pinch-hit. Against a tough right handed pitcher, the Yankees could have then substituted Carpenter to hit against them. At that point, they would have the ability to put in a defensive replacement for Carpenter that could still offer some offensive capability (either LeMahieu or Donaldson).

In another interesting wrinkle, putting LeMahieu on the roster could also have given the Yankees the ability to include Oswald Peraza on the roster. Of course, this would have necessitated leaving either Donaldson or Hicks off of the roster. Realistically, the Yankees do not need seven outfielders on their postseason roster (Judge, Bader, Hicks, Stanton, Carpenter, Locastro, Cabrera). In limited time, Peraza offered a lot of promise, and he could have been a good option off of the bench. All of this would have been possible if LeMahieu had been healthy.

Unfortunately, LeMahieu’s health has been a common issue for the last two seasons. With his contract lasting through the 2026 season (part of a six-year and $90 million contract), he is not going anywhere. The issue becomes that he has started to become unavailable at inopportune times. The roster has been constructed with his versatility in mind, and without him, it just does not work as well. That's not to mention the batting ability that he brings to the lineup. All the Yankees can do is hope that his ability to stay healthy improves.