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DJ LeMahieu is the Yankees’ X-factor in 2022

The versatile infielder would provide a huge boost to the Yankees if he can produce something close to what he did in 2019 and 2020.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The New York Yankees have a really talented lineup. Maybe it’s not as deep as in previous seasons, but it remains a dangerous unit, capable of scoring runs in bunches. Yet, the team’s X-factor may be a player not currently penciled as the starter in any position: DJ LeMahieu.

Forgotten by many after his rather disappointing 2021 campaign, LeMahieu is back to full health after suffering several injuries last year, most notably a sports hernia late in the season that eventually required surgery in October. Even in one of his worst seasons in recent memory, LeMahieu was able to give the Yankees a more than passable stat line — he slashed .268/.349/.362 with a 100 wRC+, average production when we factor in the solid on-base skills with the poor power showing.

On Friday, during the Yankees’ Opening Day game against the Boston Red Sox, LeMahieu was the starting second baseman at the expense of Gleyber Torres. On Saturday, he was the third baseman, sending Josh Donaldson to the designated hitter spot. We are pretty sure that if Anthony Rizzo is banged up or needs a break, DJLM can play first base, too, as he did last season.

LeMahieu is a super-utility guy for the infield who gives manager Aaron Boone a ton of flexibility when building his lineup. If Donaldson or Rizzo get injured or need an off day, he’s there to play either corner infield spot. If Gleyber can’t have the rebound season we are all hoping for, he’s there to play second. Not every team has the luxury of having a recent MVP candidate available to play that many positions.

Yes, LeMahieu struggled last season, but it’s not like 2019 and 2020 didn’t happen. He slashed .327/.375/.518 with 26 homers and a 136 wRC+ three seasons ago, and .364/.421/.590 with 41 runs scored in just 50 games during the pandemic season. Yes, that last stat line was somewhat inflated by good luck, since he hit far too many groundballs (2.68 for every fly ball, to be exact), but his .361 xwOBA was solid, even if not quite at the level of his .429 actual wOBA.

We shouldn’t expect LeMahieu to be a 177 wRC+ guy like in 2020, and perhaps not even his 2019 self (136 wRC). When healthy, however, he should be much, much better than just a league average hitter, and he is off to a promising start after having homered in the season’s first game.

Now, there is also the chance that age (he is, after all, 33 years old and will turn 34 during the season), injuries, or just natural decline gets in the way and we can’t enjoy a rebound campaign from DJLM. The Yankees depth and offensive firepower would undoubtedly be affected under that scenario, which is precisely why he is the team’s X-factor: he could make or break the Yankees’ year.

Last year, the Yankees needed him at his best in a really competitive AL East, and they ended up suffering when LeMahieu clearly wasn’t there. The fourth-place player in the AL MVP voting in 2019 and third-place in 2020 struggled, and it obviously showed in the standings.

If he gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 plate appearances, he has every chance of finishing with a wRC+ mark around 120 or 125. The Yankees, and just about every other MLB team, would gladly take a player with that kind of offensive performance who can play three positions competently, one of them up the middle.