Yankees’ LeMahieu eagerly looks for ways to end the rut

DJ LeMahieu is seen during his walk off win against Toronto, April 22, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.

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NEW YORK – The Yankees’ offense was incredibly strong during the first half of the previous season, but it significantly declined in the second half and struggled further during the playoffs. One of the main reasons for this decline was a toe injury that DJ LeMahieu suffered. This injury affected his ability to plant and rotate on his back foot, resulting in weak contact whenever he made contact with the ball.

The situation became so severe that the Yankees had to exclude DJ LeMahieu from the postseason roster. Prior to this, LeMahieu had been one of the game’s top leadoff hitters, known for wearing down pitchers before they faced star player Aaron Judge. However, due to the injury, LeMahieu’s performance drastically deteriorated, and he was no longer the player he once was.

LeMahieu’s current form belies expectations

Both the Yankees and LeMahieu have insisted that his current period of poor performance is just a temporary decline and nothing to be concerned about. However, it has persisted for a considerable amount of time, becoming a notable issue for New York. Once again, the team experienced difficulties with their hitting, resulting in a 5-1 loss to the Padres at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.

LeMahieu explained that he has been missing some pitches that he should be able to hit, and as a result, he has been attempting to do too much in order to simply make contact with the ball. He acknowledged that this approach is not in line with his usual game.

LeMahieu had a 1-for-4 performance in the game, managing a single in the fourth inning. Although the Yankees recorded seven hits, they only scored one run on a groundout by Anthony Rizzo. This allowed Gleyber Torres to come in from third base, reducing the Padres’ lead to 4-1 during the sixth inning. The Yankees were not given any free passes throughout the game. Joe Musgrove, the starting pitcher for the Padres, limited the Yankees to six hits over six and third innings while striking out six. Randy Vasquez, a rookie pitcher for the Yankees, made his major league debut and pitched well, allowing just two earned runs over four and a third innings.

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Seth Wenig/AP

On Friday, LeMahieu’s performance was not the sole issue for the Yankees. However, his recent decline has been a cause for concern for the team. They cannot solely depend on players like Judge, Rizzo, and Torres every night, especially considering that Stanton is still on the injured list due to a hamstring injury, and other hitters are also experiencing difficulties. Stanton is not anticipated to return for at least another week, adding to the team’s challenges.

Before Friday’s game, LeMahieu had a batting average of.217 (21-for-97) in his last 26 games. His performance had further declined in the recent past, with only a.115 average (3-for-26) in his previous seven games. On April 25, his batting average was.296 accompanied by an OPS of.868. However, presently, his numbers have dropped to .250 and .716, respectively.

LeMahieu said that he feels good and mentioned that the past week and a half has been quite demanding. He emphasized the need to improve his performance in at-bats and expressed a slight disappointment. However, he remains motivated to keep pushing forward and expressed his excitement about the team’s overall performance, stating that they have been playing good baseball.

The Yankees need LeMahieu to fire

According to LeMahieu, his toe is not causing any issues. During the offseason, he received three different opinions from doctors, each suggesting a different surgical procedure. However, he decided against surgery and opted for rehabilitation instead. He dedicated a significant amount of time to the team’s player development complex in Tampa from November until the start of spring training. However, the Yankees might believe that they have been relying too heavily on LeMahieu. His absence from the starting lineup on Thursday is indicative of this, despite the fact that the club had a day off the previous Monday. In addition, on May 15 in Toronto, for Game 1 of the series, he was benched.

DJ LeMahieu is talking to a reporter after his walk off win against Toronto when Aaron Judge and Torres come out to bath him with ice, April 22, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.

Bench coach Carlos Mendoza, who filled in for the suspended Aaron Boone, made it known that he does not believe there are any physical issues with DJ LeMahieu. Mendoza acknowledged that LeMahieu is going through a challenging period but clarified that there are no concerns about his health.

Taking a closer look at the statistics reveals additional causes for concern, although there is also a positive aspect to consider. LeMahieu’s strikeout rate at age 34 is much higher than at any other time in his career. His current strikeout percentage is 26.9%, which is significantly higher than his career average of 14.3%. Additionally, he has been swinging and missing at a concerning frequency. This season, he’s striking out more frequently despite swinging at a comparable percentage of pitches beyond the strike zone as he has historically (23%). When chasing pitches, his contact rate is now at 54.2%, well below his career average of 72.1%.

Although evaluators often associate a 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound physique with the potential for pure power hitting, LeMahieu took a different path in his development. He’s developed into a skilled contact hitter who can consistently put a good swing on the ball when up against good pitching.

On a positive note, LeMahieu’s exit velocity has shown improvement. He has been averaging 91.9 mph per ball put in play, which is a promising statistic. The fact that if he maintains this velocity for the remainder of the season, it will match his career high demonstrates his ability to hit the ball with great power.

LeMahieu conveyed his pride in his ability to maintain a low strikeout rate, stating that he takes satisfaction in not striking out. He admitted that he has experienced a higher number of strikeouts than he would prefer during the current year. However, he expressed his determination to persevere and mentioned that he believes he will eventually overcome this temporary slump.

For over a month now, LeMahieu has been struggling, and it’s become more than just an inconvenience. This dry spell could become a major issue for the squad if it persists. 

It’s worth noting that on January 27, 2021, LeMahieu officially joined the Yankees as a free agent, signing a six-year contract worth $90 million.

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