Yankees bench LeMahieu as part of the reset strategy to reignite his performance

DJ LeMahieu of the New York Yankees
Twitter/ChrisKirschner
Matthew Maybloom
Thursday June 22, 2023

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On Wednesday, Yankees manager Aaron Boone decided to bench DJ LeMahieu, who earns $15 million per year, for the fourth time in the past five games. Although their two-time batting champion is not injured, there appears to be an issue affecting his performance or overall condition. Manager Aaron Boone later revealed that it was part of the plan to reset him.

Currently, LeMahieu has a batting average of .232, which is noticeably lower than his usual performance. Additionally, he is experiencing a higher frequency of strikeouts, approximately double the rate compared to his previous seasons.

In preparation for the Yankees’ matchups against the Mariners on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at Yankee Stadium, LeMahieu dedicated significant time to batting practice and focused on refining his mechanics alongside the team’s hitting coaches.

By the time Thursday arrives, LeMahieu will likely be included in the lineup for the series finale between the Yankees and the Mariners. Alternatively, there is a possibility that Boone may choose to bench him once more.

Yankees need LeMahieu to get his form back fast

The Yankees are facing a difficult situation as they have been struggling to score runs, which is particularly challenging because their reigning AL MVP, Aaron Judge, has been sidelined with a sprained big toe for the past two weeks. This unfortunate timing has compounded the team’s scoring issues.

Since June 4, when Aaron Judge has been absent from the lineup, the Yankees have encountered a record of 5 wins and 8 losses. Moreover, they have struggled to score three or fewer runs on nine occasions, including a recent streak of three consecutive games.

LeMahieu of the Yankees at a practice session.
AP

The contribution of a few hits from LeMahieu would undeniably provide a boost to the team’s performance. Boone mentioned that he observed LeMahieu engaging in productive practice sessions on Tuesday and noticed his early arrival for additional preparation on Wednesday.  He said he is optimistic these efforts would have a positive impact and potentially help LeMahieu regain his form.

LeMahieu has been enduring an extended period of poor performance. Initially, he displayed a batting average of .296 in his initial 19 games until April 24. However, in the subsequent 42 games, his performance declined significantly, with a batting average of .204 and 45 strikeouts in 204 at-bats. In the most recent 14 games, his batting average has further dropped to .151. Consequently, his season average has decreased from .252 to .232 during this challenging stretch.

LeMahieu’s current strikeout rate stands at 26.6 percent, with 64 strikeouts in 225 at-bats. This is significantly higher than his strikeout rates in his previous four seasons with the Yankees, which were 13.7 percent in 2019, 9.7 percent in 2020, 13.8 percent in 2021, and 13.1 percent in 2022.

The Yankees remarked they have confidence in his ability to overcome his current struggles and find a solution to improve his performance. Boone mentioned that he finds it difficult to fully understand LeMahieu’s situation because he has always been known for his exceptional hitting abilities. 

DJ is facing a slump but has the ability to hit big

According to Boone also, LeMahieu has always been naturally gifted at hitting, and this recent struggle has been frustrating and challenging for him.

LeMahieu, a career .294 hitter, is currently batting significantly below his career average, with a difference of over 60 points. It is worth noting that his batting average hasn’t been as high since the 2020 season, where he led the American League with a .365 average in the shortened 60-game season due to COVID-19.

DJ LeMahieu's walk off ensured the Yankees win against Toronto on April 22, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.

Boone highlighted that it would be unfair to compare this season to last year when LeMahieu battled through a toe issue, impacting his performance and resulting in a .262 average. Additionally, in the previous year, he had a batting average of .268 in 152 games. Furthermore, LeMahieu is entering an older age bracket, as he will turn 35 on July 13.

The question lies in whether LeMahieu’s recent performance is merely a slump or if it indicates that he may be past his prime. And if the latter is true, it would be a significant concern for the Yankees considering LeMahieu’s six-year, $90-million contract that extends until 2026.

According to manager Boone, despite LeMahieu’s struggles in the past month, hitting is a nuanced aspect of the game. Small adjustments can make a difference and unlock one’s potential.  However, it can also become a mental challenge as different approaches are experimented with in an attempt to simplify the process. 

Boone believes that LeMahieu is working through these challenges and maintains faith that he will return to his usual form. The key lies in their continuous collaboration and efforts.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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