With literally half the projected Opening Day lineup on the Injured List, it’s been a struggle for the Yankees to find consistent performance from their hitters. Emerging from the pack has been infielder DJ LeMahieu. Predictably, he’s shined with the glove, whether at second or third. On offense, he entered Saturday’s action hitting .439/.489/.561, good for a .448 wOBA and a 186 wRC+. He’s done it, as evidenced by the .122 ISO, with little power, though, which led me to remark the other night that a flyball to deep center was probably the deepest ball he’s hit all year. Regardless, what he’s doing has worked, so let’s take a look.
The first thing that sticks out is the .500 (!) BABIP. Per FanGraphs, that’s second highest in baseball, behind Tim Anderson’s insane .581 (!!) BABIP to start the year. The gap between DJLM in second and Elvis Andrus in third (.475) is higher than the gap between LeMahieu and Anderson. That’s obviously not sustainable, even for a high BABIP guy like LeMahieu (career .345 BABIP). Maybe he’s just hitting the ball really hard, right? That shows up in his profile, but even that’s a bit strange. His LD% is up, but so are his FB% and IFFB%, two things that would likely kill BABIP. Let’s check out Statcast and see what we can find.
My initial hunch about LeMahieu not hitting the ball too far appears to be correct. Among players with at least 30 batted ball events, he ranks 88th out of 171 in average distance at 174 feet. His max–375′–has him in 148th place. While it’s nice to have my ideas confirmed, it doesn’t tell us a whole lot about that high BABIP. Is he stinging the ball? It appears that he is. He’s got 21 balls hit at 95+ MPH, good for 12th in the league. His percentage of hard hit balls (95+MPH) has him even higher at 6th place: 58.3%. His 92.5 average exit velocity puts him in the top 30 of MLB (28th place) as well, though his max exit velocity of 107.2 puts him 112th. So, basically, he hits the ball very hard, very often, but just not at the upper reaches of velocity and without hitting the ball all too far. It doesn’t seem, as a high BABIP sometimes suggests (or always suggests, according to broadcasters who still can’t grasp even the most basic of advanced stats…), that LeMahieu is getting overly lucky, even with those fly ball/IFFB increases. According to Statcast, his xWOBA is .367. There’s a pretty big difference between that and his actual wOBA, but .367 is still a damn good number–especially for someone as good in the field as he is–and, to me at least, suggests he’s just squaring things up right now, not running into a bunch of seeing-eye singles or dying quails.
I was skeptical of the LeMahieu signing, but so far, I’ve been flat out wrong about it. I’m glad to be, frankly, given how badly the Yankees need their healthy players to step up. DJLM is not going to keep this up all year, of course, but it’s nice to ride this hard contact wave while it’s happening.