Saturday, July 20, 2019

DJ LeMahieu, The Difference-Maker For Yankees

DJ LeMahieu.

With the Colorado Rockies at Yankee Stadium this weekend, it is natural to think of who they let go and allowed the Yankees to sign in the offseason. 

When infielder D.J. LeMahieu signed with the Yankees on January 11, it was viewed as more of a move to add depth to their infield than bringing in a player that is one of the biggest contributors to them holding the best record in Major League Baseball.

After starting the early part of the season rotating around the four infield spots, LeMahieu has settled in at third base, and is primarily in the leadoff spot, with Aaron Judge right behind him. Sometimes their roles flip depending on the matchup that day.

LeMahieu leads the American League in batting (.330 through Friday) and is batting a Major League-best .440 (37-83) with runners in scoring position. 

LeMahieu has 39 multi-hit games, best in the American League, one ahead of Houston's Michael Brantley. He is tied for most in the Majors with Arizona's Ketel Marte. He also is third in the AL and Major Leagues in hits with 121,and is tied for sixth in RBI with 67.

When he comes up with the bases loaded, LeMahieu lives up to his nickname of "The Machine," as he is batting .750 (9-12) with 20 RBI, the Majors' highest batting average and most hits in those situations.

On this homestand, LeMahieu is on a tear, as he has hit safely in seven straight games (through Saturday), hitting .355 (11-for-31) in the span. He has hits in 11 of his last 12 games, and 25-of-27.

LeMahieu played his entire career with the Rockies, from 2012-18, before joining the Yankees. He is ninth on the Rockies franchise's all-time hits list with 1.011. 

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said on Saturday morning of what he thought LeMahieu would provide his team heading into the season, "Seeing how the winter unfolded and then knowing that he became very much a guy that (General Manager) Brian (Cashman) and the front office were going to pursue, and once we did, you got the sense that DJ - this was a place that he wanted to be too, and I think that played a big role in it, too.

"He wanted this, you know, very clear early on that this was going to be a role that he was going to be bouncing around. We're taking a Gold Glove second baseman and saying, 'alright, you're going to play a few positions.' We were confident he would be able to handle that, but you also want the buy-in from the player, knowing that that's going to be the situation. The one thing I said, even at that point, when we were looking at where we had (Miguel) Andujar and Didi (Gregorius), Tulo (Troy Tulowitzki) in that mix, Gleyber (Torres), obviously, logistically very much in my mind, it worked out. You can spell guys and keep everyone as basically a regular. 

"My biggest thing was he might not play on opening day, so it's going to look like you're the guy on the bench when you'll probably play the next four or five. So, best case scenario, I was confident it would work out and, you know, obviously with some of the issues and injuries we've had, you know, it's really worked out."

On if LeMahieu has exceeded his expectations offensively, Boone said, "He's been one of the best players in the league, I hate to say maybe he has to some degree exceeded a little bit, but I knew we were getting a really good player, and I was confident that this was the player we were getting, so as we sit here today and he's probably in the MVP conversation, I guess he's, to a degree, exceeded, but I had pretty high expectations coming in of DJ."

In Saturday's 11-5 win over Colorado, LeMahieu had a 3-for-4 day at the plate, with two runs scored and a walk

When first baseman Luke Voit exited in the sixth, Gio Urshela went in to play third base and LeMahieu moved over to first.

As usual, LeMahieu did not disappoint, as he made five superb defensive plays over there in the final four innings. 

Boone said of what has impressed Boone most about LeMahieu's defense, "Well, the versatility, having not done it in the big leagues. You saw some special plays at first today; a really good play to start things off down at third, you know, and just the comfort and flexibility of having - you know, obviously, we removed Luke today, and it's like, Gio's (Urshela) our backup infielder today and he's in there. We've got DJ that we can plug and play everywhere, and wherever he goes, he plays it like a Gold Glover. He made some special plays today."

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