After re-signing with the Yankees on a six-year contract, DJ LeMahieu muddled through a down 2021 season. The power stroke he suddenly flashed over his first two years in New York vanished, and questions abounded about the infielder’s status. If LeMahieu regressed heavily in the first year of his new deal, what did that portend about his long-term future with the Yankees?
LeMahieu returned in 2022 to answer most of those lingering questions. When healthy, he was one of the club’s most valuable players on both sides of the ball, running a strong batting line and providing top-tier defense at multiple positions. That said, for the second year running, injuries hampered LeMahieu, raising a new crop of questions as he progresses through his 30’s.
2022 Statistics: 125 games, 541 PA, .261/.357/.377, 116 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Entering third year of six-year, $90-million contract
The numbers for LeMahieu’s overall campaign are strong, but we’re probably best off viewing his season as before and after the foot injury that kept him out of the playoffs. The team has pinpointed a series in Boston beginning August 12th as the time that LeMahieu initially injured his foot. The malady was an odd one, as the Yankees claimed rest wouldn’t help LeMahieu, only to sit him down for a few weeks in September, almost a month after the injury occurred. LeMahieu returned at the end of the season but still looked incumbered, and ultimately did not play in either of the Yankees’ postseason series.
LeMahieu entered that series against the Red Sox with a robust .284/.387/.425 slash line, good for a 139 wRC+. While he hadn’t fully discovered the power he showed in 2019 and 2020, LeMahieu was consistently hitting the ball with more thump than in 2021. Couple that with a walk rate that LeMahieu raised for the fifth consecutive year, and the veteran looked to be on track for perhaps his best-ever offensive output in a full season.
But the foot injury suffered in Boston sapped LeMahieu’s strength, in a similar way to how a sports hernia limited his power in 2021. In 23 games after getting hurt, LeMahieu hit just .163/.215/.163, with zero extra-base hits. He was clearly a shell of himself, with his injured right foot rendering him completely unable to strike the ball with authority.
The difference was stark. In the first half of the season, we grew accustomed to classic LeMahieu: a consistent, line-drive swing that produced steady hard contact to all fields.
During the stretch run, LeMahieu visibly struggled to drive off his back foot, leading to all kinds of weak contact and easy outs:
LeMahieu’s miserable finish to the season unfortunately dragged his seasonal numbers and knocked our grade down a notch. Before the injury, though, LeMahieu had a strong case as the club’s second-best position player, thanks in large part to his incredibly well-rounded game.
Despite his post-injury regression, LeMahieu’s walk rate still landed at a career-high 12.4 percent. He showcased a top class plate approach, chasing out of zone pitches less than the average player, and making loads of contact within the zone. Consistent quality contact in the zone, plus spitting on pitches out of the zone, adds up to a whole lot of difficult at-bats for opposing pitchers.
LeMahieu also contributed defensively across the diamond, providing excellent glove work wherever he was needed. LeMahieu played 35 games at first base, 41 games at second, and 47 at third, rating well above average at each post. While LeMahieu has both below average speed and arm strength, his outstanding instincts and consistent fundamentals allow him to convert batted balls into outs wherever he stands on the infield dirt.
There are just very few holes in a healthy LeMahieu’s game. He rarely swings and misses, and hits the ball hard to all fields. His plate discipline has improved mightily as his career has progressed, and he’s demonstrated an ability to play versatile, elite defense even as he ages.
Going forward, it all really seems to come down to health. LeMahieu is 34 now, but has shown he can still do pretty much everything on a baseball field at a high level. He just has to stay healthy, something he wasn’t able to do across these last two full seasons. If he can stay on the field for 150 games in 2023, the Yankees should probably expect a 4+ WAR player, but there’s no guarantee that will ever again be the case as LeMahieu enters his mid-30s.
In all, the Yankees and LeMahieu remain in a solid spot. He’s a good player, one the Yankees should be happy to have under contract into the future. Questions remain, but this time, they don’t really pertain to LeMahieu’s on-field performance. The Yankees should feel confident that a healthy LeMahieu remains one of the American League’s top overall infielders.