After a really strong 2020 season that saw him post a 177 wRC+, expectations for DJ LeMahieu in 2021 were high. He had extended his stay in the Bronx for the next six years and was coming off a terrific couple years. He couldn’t replicate his 2019-20 success last year, however, and finished with merely average production (100 wRC+) in 679 plate appearances amid some nagging injuries and a sports hernia late in the season. As a result, expectations were somewhat low for 2022.
Instead, LeMahieu has enjoyed a rebound season. He’s not quite at the level he showed in 2020, when he won a batting crown and competed for the MVP award, but he has been one of the most underrated contributors in the Yankees’ lineup. As of this morning, the veteran infielder is hitting .262/.360/.402 with a 124 wRC+. With 7 homers, 35 walks, 41 runs scored, and 31 RBI, he has helped considerably, and his game-tying, two-run long ball against the Houston Astros on Sunday is still fresh in our memories.
But what has LeMahieu, an aging, soon-to-be 34-year-old player who doesn’t rely on power, done to return to relevancy after a “meh” 2021? Well, for starters, it seems he is willing to walk more, as he is currently boasting a career-high 12.4-percent walk rate. That has helped bring his pure offensive production back to a much more familiar standard.
LeMahieu is also barreling more balls. At 6.3 percent as of Wednesday morning, his barrel percentage is the highest he has posted since 2019 (7.5 percent), when he had the best year of his career with the Bombers. Overall, his Statcast profile is looking very good, certainly better than last year.
Percentiles were active as of the end of play on Tuesday.
LeMahieu’s expected numbers say he has been better than his numbers show. Before Wednesday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, he was hitting .257, but Statcast has his expected batting average at .292. He was slugging .398, but should be sporting a .477 mark, and while his wOBA was a solid .336, his quantity and quality of contact suggest he should be closer to .373.
DJ’s 2022 improvements have come well beyond what he has done at the plate. His defense has also been better this year. In 2021, he had -3 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at first, second, and third base, but the numbers have increased to +6 this season. He is also in the 96th percentile in Outs Above Average (OAA), which is elite.
All things considered, LeMahieu’s offensive and defensive contributions have resulted in a fantastic fWAR output so far. He is already at 1.9 fWAR this year in 66 games; he had exactly 2.0 in 150 games last year. Even if it doesn’t always seem like it, LeMahieu has been sneaky good. Perhaps we will never know if nagging triceps and sports hernia injuries affected him in 2021, or if it was just a down year. But LeMahieu has been relatively healthy in 2022, and thanks to that (and the new hitting regime, too), he has been able to perform at an above-average level offensively again.
The 2022 Yankees are a good, deep group, and they have LeMahieu to thank especially for that last part. A player with a 120+ wRC+ who can be a defensive asset in three infield positions is extremely valuable for any team that prides itself on being a contender.