Yankees: We’ll never forget DJ LeMahieu’s first season in pinstripes
The Yankees season ended with heartbreak Saturday night but not before All-Star DJ LeMahieu made one last-ditch effort to save it all by himself.
Game 6 of the ALCS will always be remembered most for Jose Altuve’s walk-off home run but Yankees fans will never forget Lemahieu’s game-tying home run with the season on the line. In an epic 10 pitch at-bat against Houston closer, Roberto Osuna the Yankees team MVP delivered one of the biggest home runs you’ll ever see under the circumstances. Just like he did all season LeMahieu stepped up when it mattered most and capped off one of the best first seasons in pinstripes by any player in franchise history.
When the Yankees signed LeMahieu to a two-year, $24M deal last offseason most fans wondered why the move was made and where he would fit in but that all changed about a week into the regular season. Thanks to the injuries to Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki it only took a few games to realize that DJ was going to fit in just fine, but I don’t think anyone expected him to have the MVP caliber season he ended up having.
It’s crazy to think about how LeMahieu was a healthy scratch in the regular-season opener because from the moment he played in his first game until his last on Saturday he was the Yankees best player. He was everything this team could’ve hoped for and more and he needs to be commended for that.
In 145 games, LeMahieu hit .327 with a career-high 26 HR, 102 RBI, and 109 runs. His 197 hits were the most by a Yankee since Derek Jeter in 2012. And like Jeter, Lemahieu was as clutch as it gets with runners in scoring position. In 126 at-bats he hit a league-leading .389 with 73 RBI and a 1.017 OPS. He also led the majors in multi-hit games with 61. In the playoffs, he continued to come through in the clutch hitting .325 with three home runs and seven RBI.
Part of the reason the Yankees signed LeMahieu was because of his bat to ball skills and his opposite-field approach. Because of that, the front office projected he would be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium and be able to hit for more power. That certainly proved to be true as LeMahieu hit 12 opposite field home runs with 11 of them coming at home.
It’s fair to say that the addition of LeMahieu changed the complexion of the entire Yankees lineup due to his approach with runners on base and his ability to put the ball in play. A season ago the Yanks only hit .253 and struck out the seventh most times with RISP, but this year with DJ leading the way they led baseball with a .294 clip and struck out the 27th most times with RISP. He was exactly what this offense needed entering last offseason and he reminded fans of the value of not striking out.
Defensively he was just as good as he was at the plate showcasing his versatility all over the infield. Before joining the Yankees, LeMahieu was a three-time gold glove winner at second base but this season he was tasked with playing a lot of third and first base as well. He still played 75 games at second but he also started 40 games at first and 53 at third. He was the first Yankee to ever do so and still finished the season with a team-leading .987 fielding percentage.
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LeMahieu was the ultimate team player in year one with the Yankees and he’ll continue to be one moving forward. All he cares about is winning which is why he signed on to come to New York last winter. Some players shy away from the Bronx because of all the pressure that comes with playing for the Yankees but DJ embraced it. His calm demeanor and his professionalism made him a perfect match for this team and the city.
The season obviously didn’t end how he and his teammates wanted it too, but his first season as a Yankee will always be remembered by the fans as one of the best we’ll ever see. In fact, outside of Reggie Jackson and CC Sabathia, I’d argue that I don’t think we’ve ever seen a free agent signing make a bigger impact than LeMahieu did in his first year with the Yanks.
That’s saying a lot when you think about all the big signings this franchise has made over the past 45 years, but he was that good. He still has a ways to go and more big moments to create before we mention his name amongst the greats in team history but he’s off to an incredible start.
And if the Yankees front office were smart they’d lock him up to a multi-year extension as soon as possible.