The Yankees’ youth movement is well under way, and the kids should provide some excitement. Everson Pereira and Oswald Peraza have appeared overmatched in the early goings, but the rest of the 2023 schedule serves to inform the organization on the rookies’ areas for improvement (and Jasson Domínguez sure looked good last night). With that being said, veterans on long-term contracts like DJ LeMahieu aren’t going anywhere. After an inconsistent, injury-riddled calendar year, DJ is finally recapturing a touch of his vintage 2019-20 form.
LeMahieu’s contract isn’t quite an albatross, but he’s going to be penciled into this lineup through 2026 (or at least 2025). His value skyrocketed by posting two great seasons immediately before he hit the open market, and he signed a six-year, $90 million contract way on the wrong side of 30. The Yankees are on the hook for $45 million over the next three seasons, and at the All-Star break this year, things were beginning to look bleak for the remainder of his contract — especially considering how he’s played since the middle of 2022.
But LeMahieu has hit his stride of late, batting over .294 with a 148 wRC+ in the second half after hitting just .220 in the season’s opening months. A batting average in this Yankees lineup close to .300?! A welcome sight to say the least. He also broke the ice on Friday night with a leadoff homer against Justin Verlander. We’ll take that any day.
The Yankees’ lineup boasts a little more power in recent days in no small part thanks to LeMahieu. He’s been on fire — 6 homers in 10 games is no joke. His walk rate has ticked up in line with his career average, which can be the salve to many hitting woes. In a new twist, though, he strikes out 22.7 percent of the time — this is way up from 13.1 percent last year. The strikeouts aren’t such a concern when LeMahieu’s playing pepper with the right-field short porch and slugging .476 since midsummer. It’s up for interpretation whether his health played into his slow first half after rehabbing the entire offseason. Given the Yankees training staff’s dismal track record recently, who knows?
Here, though, let’s see how DJ’s swing mechanics have played into his resurgence. After seven home runs in the first half (76 games), LeMahieu has socked seven home runs in the second half (37 games). Now that we’ve surveyed his results, let’s examine his process. Fans are familiar with the veteran’s fundamentals: start closed, minimal load, keep the weight back, throw the hands. It’s a swing that never goes out of style, and it bore fruit for him over a stellar first decade in the big leagues.
Since his foot injury in August 2022, LeMahieu has struggled mightily to use his opposite-field power. In this at-bat against John Curtiss from June 13th of this year, we see this clearly. He takes a slider moving away across the plate to right field, which is his usual approach, but it’s a can of corn. He had plenty of lift on the swing, so it’s not a launch angle issue. We simply saw too many fly balls like this one die in medium-deep right field.
It was a decent-looking swing, so why the lazy fly ball? Let’s run that back in GIF form — his front foot is angled open at the point of contact, so he hinges at the hips to reach for the pitch. Reaching for a slider almost always precludes any hitter’s ability to hit it hard to the opposite field, and DJ is no different.
For purposes of juxtaposition, this opposite-field home run last week against the Nationals is classic DJ. This is the head-down swing and loud opposite-field contact that Yankees fans have come to expect.
Take a look at the front foot again. It stays closed; at the point of contact, LeMahieu’s weight shifts more efficiently on the ball of the front foot, keeping his head down on the pitch and supplying power without yanking it. Only after contact do his toes open up and face the pitcher.
The earlier the hips open, the less opposite-field pop LeMahieu can generate, and that’s inherent to most hitters. Any weight falling toward third base cannot be used toward the opposite field, and thus by keeping his foot/hips closed for longer, he has his power stroke back. LeMahieu’s swing has precisely coordinated levers that work in tandem with his big, long body. He’s also a mechanics-based hitter, so any irregularity in his weight transfer is going to show up.
For better or worse, the rookies will get to cut their teeth this September. They need veterans to show them the way, and LeMahieu’s swing is as fundamentally sound as they get. This team will be spectators this October once the playoffs start, but LeMahieu is attending to business in the here and now. We certainly hope the rookies have a pen and notebook handy over the next month, because DJ’s leading by example.