Yankees: Why every fan should love the D.J. LeMahieu signing
When the Yankees signed free agent D.J. LeMahieu, fans had mixed reactions. Many of the Bronx Bombers faithful expected superstar Manny Machado to sign with New York. While the Yanks may have missed out on Machado Mania, I believe the signing of LeMahieu is a move we all will grow to appreciate.
I for one am very pleased with the Yankees decision to sign D.J. LeMahieu, and so should you. He’s a former NL batting title champion, a two-time NL All-Star, and a three-time Gold Glove winner. He may not be the sexiest signing the Yankees could have made, but it’s still a damn good one.
For those of you that wanted Manny Machado to be a Yankee, I understand. You wanted a Lamborghini Veneno Roadster this offseason, not a Kia Sorento. You wanted the most luxurious and expensive car, not the best bang for your buck. Manny Machado is a better player than LeMahieu, no one is arguing against that. However, there are positives to the signing of LeMahieu I will address. Before I move forward with that, let me be clear that is still possible the Yankees could acquire Machado, but it’s unlikely.
Some analysts are speculating the current log jam could lead to a trade in the near future. With an opening in the infield after a trade, the Yankees could swoop in and nab Machado. We’ll see, but for now, let’s take a moment to think about how great this infield could be. I’m not saying the 2019 Yankees projected infield is expected to be like the 2009 Yankees infield. But I do believe it could be very productive offensively and defensively.
Signing LeMahieu brings the Yankees closer to the Red Sox offense
Now that the Yankees signed LeMahieu, they added one heck of a player to their lineup. I know he played for the Rockies, which means his offensive numbers can’t be taken entirely seriously. However, I feel power hitters benefit more from the thin air in Colorado, not push hitters like LeMahieu. He’s the type of batter that loves to slap the ball all over the field, especially the opposite way. One could think the last time the Yankees had a hitter like LeMahieu in their lineup was when they had Derek Jeter.
Having a few hitters in your lineup that aren’t all-or-nothing swingers could be a good thing, guys and gals. Many fans want to point out that pitching is the reason why New York lost in the playoffs to the Red Sox. I think it was more because of a poor approach in the batter’s box. I understand that some batters are at their best when they have the freedom to swing for the fences or take a walk. Others are more comfortable with grinding out plate appearances and slapping the ball for a base hit. Some may ask, which approach is better?
Let’s compare two teams who had a noticeably different approach in the batter’s box. Team A had a .268 team batting average, .339 on base percentage, .453 slugging percentage, and 208 home runs. Team B, on the other hand, had a .249 batting average, .329 on-base percentage, .451 slugging percentage, and 267 home runs. Team A went on to win the World Series (Boston Red Sox) and Team B is obviously the New York Yankees.
By acquiring D.J. LeMahieu, the Yankeed added a hitter that brings them closer to being the type of team the Red Sox were in 2018. It’s also important to note, that Cashman is taking a gamble by signing him.
Derek Jeter and D.J. LeMahieu have something in common
In 2018, LeMahieu hit .276 after three straight years of batting over .300. His sudden decline could be attributed to simply being unlucky in 2018. According to Fangraphs, his career BABIP (batting average of balls hit into play) is .343, but his 2017 BABIP was a career-low .298.
Real quick, let’s compare him to Derek Jeter again. According to Fangraphs, The Captain had a career BABIP of .350, but at the age of 30 in 2004, his BABIP was .315. This decline caused his batting average to fall to .292 after hitting a combined .324 in the six previous seasons prior to 2004. The next year, Jeter’s BABIP was .351 and his batting average rose to back over .300 to .309.
BABIP could be affected when a hitter does his job by hitting a ball into play with force, but fielders are more often in the right place at the right time. I think LeMahieu was a victim of this in 2018 like Jeter was in 2004. Jeter had his fourth-highest hard contact rate in 2004, and LeMahieu had his second-highest hard contact rate in 2018.
Defense will be LeMahieu’s most impactful contribution in 2019
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For most fans, offense in baseball is much more appreciated than defense. It’s important to take notice that LeMahieu is an exceptional fielder that could benefit the younger stars on the roster. Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres have learned a lot from shortstop Didi Gregorius, but they could learn more from the three-time Gold Glove winner, LeMahieu.
One of the reasons I wanted the Yankees to sign D.J. was because of his ability to flash the leather. I thought it would be great for the younger guys on the team to learn from him. The fact that he is also a contact hitter makes him the perfect addition for the team because we know much the Yankees lacked that type of hitter in 2018, outside of Andujar.
The plan moving forward is to have LeMahieu play games all-around the infield, including first base. At 6’4″, he has the size to play anywhere in the infield, which is rare for a ballplayer. I look forward to seeing him win over the heart of Yankees fans by proving what a difference exceptional fielding could be for the team.