Last Updated on September 20, 2023 at 11:53 am by Josh Barrett
While all eyes are on the young brigade and rotation, DJ LeMahieu is once again performing at his best. This is really important for the Yankees because he’s a regular in the lineup, and they owe him $45 million for the next three seasons.
Following a challenging first half of the season, during which he posted some of the weakest offensive statistics in baseball, LeMahieu has experienced a resurgence in his performance. His improvement has come at a time when it’s probably too late to make a significant impact on the current season for the Yankees. Nonetheless, it’s now much more plausible to envision him as a part of the lineup for the 2024 season, possibly in a corner-infield position.
LeMahieu’s Resurgence in the Second Half
The performance of Michael King in the Yankees rotation is a big deal. Carlos Rodon is starting to look like his old All-Star self again. And it seems like Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera might be proving themselves as legitimate major league players.
However, it is possible that the most positive thing to happen for the Yankees in the latter part of this season was the performance of the 35-year-old infielder. During the first half of the season, when he wasn’t performing well (he had a .643 OPS, which was one of the worst among all qualified hitters), LeMahieu didn’t doubt that his peak performance days were in the past.
On Tuesday, LeMahieu stated that he had the potential to perform better but admitted that he wasn’t achieving it. This was before he played in the Yankees’ 7-1 series-opening loss to the Blue Jays in The Bronx, where he went 1-for-3 with a walk.
“I knew there was nothing I wasn’t capable of,” he said on Tuesday. “I just wasn’t doing it.”
Right now, he is performing better. He entered the game with a .836 OPS in the second half, and while he hasn’t reached his vintage level of performance, he has come very close.
The Casey factor in his improvement
LeMahieu attributed his resurgence to “a little bit of everything” that has contributed to his return as a valuable contact-hitting leadoff hitter, which was something the team needed. Part of the “everything” that helped him was the hiring of Sean Casey, a hitting coach who has a better understanding of LeMahieu’s swing and has worked with him to make adjustments in his lower body.
According to Casey, LeMahieu has shown more discipline at the plate. The hitting coach recently stated that a key factor for LeMahieu was controlling the strike zone effectively. According to Casey, when LeMahieu does this well, he can handle pitches that are up and away, allowing him to extend his arms and drive the ball to right field. This ability to open up his pull-side is one of the reasons why he has been one of the best hitters in the big leagues for the last six, seven, eight years.
LeMahieu possesses exceptional skills when it comes to making contact with the baseball. However, during the initial three months of this season, he was swinging at more pitches that were outside the strike zone.
A player who had a strikeout rate of 13.1 percent last season saw his strikeout rate nearly double, reaching around 25 percent, by the end of June this year. As of Tuesday, LeMahieu had a strikeout rate of 18 percent in the months of July, August, and September, which is a more typical rate for a veteran player with 13 years of experience.
Casey pointed out that the most significant change he has observed in LeMahieu is his ability to draw walks and not chase pitches outside the strike zone. LeMahieu is now getting the pitches he wants to hit, and often, he’s hitting them hard, according to Casey.
LeMahieu, who tends to keep things to himself, didn’t want to go into detail about the specific changes, both physical and mental, that have contributed to his improved performance, but it’s clear that something has clicked for him. Over the past 17 games, he has managed to get on base in 16 of them, and his OPS has been at a solid .852 since August 4th.
LeMahieu mentioned that he didn’t believe he was chasing pitches excessively in the first half of the season. He thought his main issue was not making good contact with the balls as he should have, and he felt that these two aspects were interconnected.
In the initial months of the season, there were moments when the Yankees might have questioned what they could anticipate from an older hitter like LeMahieu, who has a contract that extends until he reaches the age of 38. However, as the season comes to a close, LeMahieu has emerged as a much-needed source of positivity in an otherwise challenging year.
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