DJ LeMahieu has been excellent for the New York Yankees and officially needs to be in the American League MVP conversation
Let’s talk about DJ LeMahieu.
You all know him. He’s the guy who won the National League batting crown in 2016, but the New York Yankees primarily saw him as a backup first baseman and utility infielder. Management was more willing to start Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop and put Gleyber Torres at second base rather than start LeMahieu. This was the case despite his three Gold Gloves at second base for the Colorado Rockies.
My, how the tables have turned! Between Tulowitzki getting injured (again) and slugging third baseman Miguel Andujar out for the season with a shoulder injury, LeMahieu has become a star in New York.
Forget his slick bat being a product of Coors Field. The two-time All-Star leads the American League with a .345 batting average and batted .394 in June. He has 12 home runs and his 61 RBIs rank second in the league.
For context, LeMahieu’s respective career highs in home runs and RBIs are 15 and 66. ESPN currently has him on pace for 21 and 124, respectively.
Simply put, this man needs to be in the AL MVP conversation immediately.
Please, Mr. DJ
Over the course of this season, DJ LeMahieu has picked up a fitting nickname: The Machine. Talk about a perfect fit! The man has been so automatic at the plate, we should probably be worried about the Cybermen invading Earth.
And even if that happened, LeMahieu would be the Doctor and save the universe with his bat. Keep in mind, great as his main numbers are, the analytics make him look even better.
His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) sits at .371, per Fangraphs. Under normal circumstances, this would imply DJ LeMahieu is less an MVP candidate and more incredibly lucky. Except, his career BABIP sits at .345. Lucky or not, the man knows how to put the ball in play in the right spots.
Now, let’s talk about LeMahieu’s spray chart. He has hit 27.3% of batted balls to the left, 41.3% to the center, and 31.4% to the right. He literally uses the whole field.
It also helps LeMahieu has hit an MLB-best .486 with 49 RBIs with runners in scoring position. He’s more clutch than Han Solo in Episode IV.
Throw in the ability to play multiple positions and a 2.9 defensive WAR, and the idea of the man not being an MVP candidate is just plain ridiculous.
Yes way, José
DJ LeMahieu’s 2019 season is similar to the MVP year of another second baseman. I’m talking about Houston Astros star Jose Altuve.
The diminutive infielder had a 2017 season to remember. Not only did his Astros win the World Series, but he won his third AL batting title. He hit .346 with 24 homers, 81 RBIs, and 32 stolen bases. He also led the AL with 204 total hits. Altuve was the most dominant overall hitter in baseball and was thus rewarded accordingly.
However, great though Altuve’s season was, LeMahieu is already ahead of him in some areas. We already discussed his spray chart. For some added context, Altuve was a 40.8% pull hitter followed by 32.9% to center and 26.3% to the right.
Altuve was also just an average fielder at second base in 2017, posting a defensive WAR of 0.8.
Granted, none of this is to say Altuve’s MVP trophy was undeserved. He was unstoppable that season and was the obvious choice.
DJ LeMahieu, however, has clearly mastered Altuve’s pesky and versatile style of hitting. The difference? He’s doing it better.
Defense wins championships
Not only that, but except for four innings at shortstop in 2016, Altuve hasn’t played any position in MLB save for second base.
LeMahieu, on the other hand, has already played three positions for the Yankees this year. He handled second base early on and often spells Luke Voit at first base. Now, with Didi Gregorius back from elbow surgery, he is practically the everyday third baseman. To provide some deeper numbers, he has played 419 innings at second and 185 at third.
And yes, there is indeed MVP precedent for this. Back in 2016, Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant took home NL MVP after playing 857 innings at third base. He also hit .292 with 39 home runs and 121 RBI.
However, he also logged 453.1 innings in the outfield.
Look, I get it. DJ LeMahieu isn’t a traditional MVP candidate. He doesn’t have a lot of power, nor is he a human highlight reel like Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim star and two-time MVP Mike Trout.
Granted, Trout is in the midst of another incredible season, but so is LeMahieu. Moreover, his MVP-caliber numbers have practically become par for the course for him. No disrespect to Trout, who’s currently on pace for 42 home runs this year, but his overall numbers don’t seem as special anymore. They’re just plain great.
LeMahieu, on the other hand, has exceeded all expectations in New York. The strong contact hitting has followed him to Yankee Stadium from Coors Field. Between his becoming a key piece of the lineup and the Yankees dealing with so many injuries, who’s to say the team would still be in first place without him around?
DJ LeMahieu’s game doesn’t come with the usual bells and whistles, but he works hard and plays hard every game while putting up incredible numbers across the board.
If that’s not an MVP, then what is?