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Under the Microscope

Why isn't DJ LeMahieu Performing Better this Year?

by Andrea Arcadipane
Updated On: June 10, 2021, 1:36 am ET

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Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu is having a down year so far this season. While he is still an above-average hitter, he should be performing better based on the type of hitter he is and the results of his previous seasons. So far this year he is hitting .256/.335/.326, which puts his stat line among the worst of his career. Let’s take a look at what is causing him to struggle this season. 

In terms of general plate discipline stats, his strikeout rate remains above league average and his walk rate has improved 3% (11%) vs that of his career (8%). That being said, he is striking out nearly double the amount he did in 2020.

When considering quality of contact, his barrel rate is low (3.3%), but this is consistent with that of his career. His hard-hit percentage remains consistent with years prior at approximately 43%, which is 8% above league average. The story of LeMahieu’s struggles starts to unravel when looking at his average exit velocity this season.

LeMahieu’s average exit velocity this season is 89.7 mph and his career exit velocity is 91 mph. While the 1.6 mph difference may not seem significant, it is a major contributing factor to why his numbers are down.

What Type of Hitter is DJ LeMahieu?

Before we get into LeMahieu’s struggles, it’s important to understand his hitter profile. DJ LeMahieu is a contact hitter with plus exit velocity, and an elite one at that. He hits a lot of line drives and ground balls for singles either up the middle or opposite field. He has never been a power hitter, and his ISO (isolated power) this season reflects that, at .070.

That being said, LeMahieu has had seasons, especially while he was with Colorado, when he hit 30 or more doubles. He is capable of getting extra base hits, but does not rely on it in terms of his approach. His ISO since 2015 reflects the idea of relying on alternate methods to get high batting averages, as if he were a true power hitter we’d see more seasons similar to 2020.

SeasonISO
20150.087
20160.147
20170.099
20180.152
20190.191
20200.226
20210.070

A contributing factor to the extra base hits prior to his time with the Yankees may be that Colorado has a very hitter-friendly park. Between the large field and the altitude, there is always a concern when a good hitter leaves that his numbers will be negatively affected. I don’t think it’s had a major impact on LeMahieu, but it is a consideration when looking at his stats prior to 2019.

The following table shows that LeMahieu has never been a hitter who launches the ball at high angles to get barrels. The high exit velocity translates into mostly singles through the infield and line drives, and correlates to his expected batting average being elite most years.

SeasonLaunch AngleExit VelocityxBA
20152.990.50.265
20166.191.80.332
20173.389.30.303
20185.991.40.275
20196.591.90.309
20202.391.30.308
20214.689.70.273

This approach of hard hits and contact has worked for LeMahieu throughout his career, so why isn’t he performing as well this season?

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Decreased Average Exit Velocity

One key to LeMahieu’s success is how hard he hits the ball. Nearly every season his average exit velocity is within the top 10% of the majors. This season, however, his average exit velocity is down 1.6 mph. While that does not sound like a significant drop, it has regressed to league average. As a result, his expected batting average (.273) is also closer to that of a league average hitter.  

Decreased Contact

The other key to LeMahieu’s success is making contact. This season, his contact is down across the board.

When looking at pitches in-zone, LeMahieu’s contact is down 5% from last season even though he is swinging at approximately the same amount of in-zone pitches.

 Zone Swing%Zone Contact%
202166.389.4
202063.494.4
Difference2.9-5

For pitches out of zone, he is chasing less, but is also making 9% less contact than in 2020.

 Chase%Chase Contact%
20212573.3
202028.982.1
Difference-3.9-8.8

 

If we were to break this down by pitch type, we see a similar trend. His batting average is down against every pitch category compared to last season. The more significant decrease is against offspeed pitches, which he is seeing approximately the same amount as in 2020.

AVGFastballBreakingOffspeed
20210.2670.2870.100
20200.3850.3330.350
Difference-0.118-0.046-0.250

His whiff percentage is also much higher than last season. The most significant increase is against breaking pitches, as he is swinging and missing 11% more against them.

Whiff%FastballBreakingOffspeed
2021162420
2020101313
Difference+6+11+7

Should we be Worried About LeMahieu?

All of that being said, LeMahieu remains an above average hitter. The past two seasons with the Yankees have been the best offensive performances of his career. We have such a high expectation for LeMahieu, it’s easy to see stats like the ones discussed here and think he’s lost his edge.

He is having a down year so far, and the components behind the results (exit velocity and contact) are also down. But even though he is going through a rough stretch, it is only a rough stretch when compared to his own previous offensive performances. Offensive production is down across the league, but LeMahieu is still performing better than the league average hitter.

Like most players, LeMahieu has gone through stretches of decreased offensive performance before. Since 2015, LeMahieu has consistently proven that he is able to make adjustments and break slumps. Despite his numbers being down to start this year, he should be able to make the necessary adjustments and come back as strong as ever.

Andrea Arcadipane

Andrea Arcadipane is the founder of Scout Girl Report and a MLB content creator for NBC Sports EDGE. You can find her on Twitter @ScoutGirlReport.