Yankees: DJ LeMahieu struggling was predictable punishment for fans
All winter long, Yankees fans begged Brian Cashman and Co. to re-sign DJ LeMahieu after The Machine channeled his natural skills and developed into a relentless hitter with pop after joining the roster as a utility man prior to 2019.
In many ways, the team lucked into LeMahieu’s production.
When they had signed him two years prior, the goal was to add a strong contact bat and clubhouse presence whose versatility could help the team weather predictable injury storms. By the time 2019 ended, though, they had a new starting second baseman, MVP candidate, and engine whom fans could not stand to let go.
This entire thing was an accident, but LeMahieu’s stardom had gummed up the plan, preventing Gleyber Torres from being the Yankees’ second baseman of the future, and changing the window for free agent spending from the 2021-22 offseason shortstop frenzy to 2020-21, when DJ’s contract expired. Still, though, it was hard to argue with bringing back a batting champion who seemed to be the key difference between the unbalanced 2018 Yankees and the 2019 version, which grew up on the fly, capped by LeMahieu’s ALCS Game 6 homer before…well, something happened, we guess.
Even if he wasn’t part of the long-term vision, LeMahieu’s presence was a clear positive in both of his first two, cheaper seasons.
As a New York Yankees fan, where impossible-seeming regression simply happens, you had to see this coming, though. The worst-case scenario has reared its ugly head through the first two months of 2021, with five more years to go.
LeMahieu’s bat has disappeared. Liners have become grounders. Singles have become double plays. Everything is bending in the wrong direction, now that the Bombers are footing the bill. Much like Giancarlo Stanton’s onerous contract, it wouldn’t matter so much if this extremely rich team didn’t have a self-imposed cap.
Yankees fans apparently deserve a terrible DJ LeMahieu season.
You could almost feel the Yankees begging to be outbid all winter long in the LeMahieu chase. Of course, the fan service move that seemed so right at the time is already proving to be wrong. Chalk another one up for the team-building strategies of the professionals over whatever Twitter wants.
Apparently, this is the awful outcome Yankees fans deserve. After two years of crying for the rest of the lineup to just “learn how to hit” like LeMahieu, their chosen God has returned, and without the juiced baseball, his line-drive approach has turned to ground-ball mush, helping the team to lead the league in double plays.
Ironically, every Yankee is “hitting like LeMahieu,” following his lead to joining the Pirates and Orioles at the bottom of the league offensively. Just great.
LeMahieu hasn’t been awful, of course, because his baseline is “solid major leaguer”. When your entire offense is predicated on an MVP candidate leading off and you receive this in return, though, it changes your team’s ceiling quite a bit.
Without the beloved juiced ball from 2019 and with the security of a new contract subconsciously working its magic, LeMahieu’s barrel percentage sits in the bottom 5% of the league. His K% of 17.4 is dwarfing his past several seasons. His exit velocity, launch angle, and sweet spot percentages all look roughly similar to his previous seasons; unfortunately, he’s late far more often, missing baseballs at a high rate and watching ground balls bounce to fielders on a more regular basis.
Whatever the reason for the regression, LeMahieu is a different player in 2021, as the Yankees themselves tried to warn us this offseason. We thought they were wrong, and the egg is beginning to drip down our faces.