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DJ LeMahieu: A Yankees fan’s reaction to his return

DJ LeMahieu, a Yankee for life, or so it would seem from his 6 year, $90M contract.

I was up early on January 15, 2021 and was among the first to see new that DJ LeMahieu was finalizing a deal with the New York Yankees. This news was soon confirmed and I smiled all day.

DJ LeMahieu, a Yankee for life, or so it would seem, from his 6 year, $90M contract. LeMahieu is the epitome of Yankee greatness, a player focused on performing at the top of his game every time out and focused on winning. His personal success, accolades, and awards only serve to solidify how important his contributions are to the winning culture of the Yankees.

The LeMahieu signing begins to clarify the Yankees infield for 2021. There was a time when impatient Yankee fans speculated that LeMahieu would not be returning and that Gleyber Torres would be moved back to second base where he had been more effective defensively than he was at short stop in his first full season. LeMahieu’s return makes that scenario unlikely, however the rumor mill continues to churn on speculations about what the Yankees might do with Gleyber Torres.

LeMahieu provides elite defense behind the American League’s best pitcher in Gerrit Cole, and profiles to improve on his 2020 defensive numbers, which were down from previous years.

I’ve wondered what effect, if any, Torres’ first year at shortstop might have had on LeMahieu at 2B, contributing, perhaps, to the slight downturn in Fielding Percentage (.971 in 2020 and .993 in 2019) and Defensive Runs Saved (0 in 2020 and 3 in 2019). It will be interesting to see how Torres and LeMahieu perform together in their second year together on the infield.

But it’s the offense of the player nicknamed “LeMachine” that excites Yankee fans. His stoic focus at the plate resulted in a Silver Slugger Award in 2020. He finished third in Most Valuable Player voting, but he has the potential not only to be a MVP candidate again in 2021, but to win it.

Yankee fans across Twitter and Facebook were united in their relief that LeMahieu had at last been signed, knowing that he is the fuse in an offense with explosive power. The 2021 Yankees roster is far from being carved in stone, but with LeMahieu anchoring it, at least Yankee fans know they’ll get a winning attitude, a championship attitude.

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DJ LeMahieu: Yankee MVP, AL MVP

LeMahieu is a quiet leader who sets the pace at the top of the yankee lineup.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA) announced their American League Most Valuable Player candidates on November 2, 2020. The finalists are Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, DJ LeMahieu of the New York Yankees and Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians. Each player had elite numbers in a pandemic-shortened season.

A cursory view of the stats for Abreu, LeMahieu and Ramirez suggests that Abreu and LeMahieu outpaced Ramirez in most statistical categories, such as WAR, batting average, OPS and even DRS. This is really a two-man race.

Abreu and LeMahieu are each at 2.8 WAR for the ’20 season, but that’s where the comparison ends. Abreu had much more slugging power and his 60 RBIs in 60 games is a feat no one else came close to. LeMahieu, on the other hand, was an offensive juggernaut, posting a .364 batting average and winning the batting title. His OPS was an eye-popping 1.011.

Defensively, Abreu was above average with a DRS of 5, while LeMahieu, uncharacteristically, was at the league average of 0. Both Abreu and LeMahieu have been All-Stars and MVP candidates in past seasons and LeMahieu holds six Gold Glove awards.

But no player can rest on their past accolades. Abreu was certainly the MVP of the White Sox in ’20, leading them to their first postseason appearance since 2008. Of course, Rick Renteria, now a Manager of the Year candidate and, surprisingly, ex-manager of the White Sox, had a lot to do with their run into the postseason.

LeMahieu was the offensive catalyst for a powerful Yankee lineup, featuring the league’s home run king for ’20, Luke Voit. LeMahieu is aptly named “Le Machine” by Yankee fans because of his consistently solid at-bats and his high on base percentage. LeMahieu often was the Yankee offense as the team’s heavy hitters were sidelined or hampered by injury.

LeMahieu is a quiet leader who sets the pace at the top of the Yankee lineup. In 2019, he finished fourth in the MVP voting. It’s time for the BBWA to get it right and recognize the excellence of LeMahieu’s contribution to the Yankees and to the league.

How bad is DJ LeMahieu for the New York Yankees in 2021?

New York Yankees 2020’s silver slugger and utility man, DJ LeMahieu is having a year. After a career year in 2020 and subsequent six year $90M contract extension, DJ is struggling offensively in 2021 and fans are crying foul.

How bad is DJ at the plate through August 3, 2021? Let’s just say, too many at-bats end in a grimace for him and for fans! As far as the numbers go, there’s no comparison between last year and this year.

LeMahieu was an offensive juggernaut in ’20, posting a .364 batting average and winning the batting title. His OPS was an eye-popping 1.011. Yankees’ analytic guys were going nuts I’m sure, and he looked like the unstoppable machine he has been named for.

Fast-forward to 2021, and just a cursory look at his batting averages for the season: April .271, May .253, June .291, July .241 shows that he has not been able to put together a consistently solid season at the plate. Stat nerds can deep dive and probably find that all LeMahieu’s numbers this season are way below what Yankee fans expected.

Numbers aside, just watching him ground out at bat after at bat – or so it would seem – fans have become frustrated with him in the lead-off role. His on-base percentage in 2020 was .421 and is almost .100 points lower this year at .341. DJ’s lack of success getting on base has been disappointing for fans.

The only consolation, if it is any, is that the Yankee offense has been as inconsistent overall as DJ has been individually, with several players also having down years – Gleyber Torres, in particular.

He hasn’t hit a home run since June 26th, but then, no Yankee not named Anthony Rizzo has hit a home run since July 21st.

How bad is DJ? I’m one of the biggest fans of LeMachine, but that name seems much less apt in 2021. Fans have spent the season hoping with each game that LeMahieu would turn the corner and regain his form, but unless he’s planning a spectacular August and September, that scenario seems unlikely.

Expect more of the same, unfortunately, from LeMahieu.

Nasty Nestor on the base pads?

The 26 year old Nestor Cortes, Jr. is known for his wacky windups on the mound, but perhaps not so much for his base running moves.

He got a chance to show off these moves on Friday against the Marlins, when he pinch ran for Urshela. In true Cortes fashion, his style on the base pad was all his own, as he overran the base and just made it back before the tag.

So while Anthony Rizzo’s coming out party was a smashing success, and Joey Gallo’s was ok, it was Cortes who made me smile and reminded me that the game is supposed to be fun.

Even when he’s deceiving hitters with his unique windups, throwing them off their timing, they can’t help but laugh at the fun he’s having.

2020 MLB Defensive Short Stop Rankings: Trevor Story on Top

2020 was a surprising year for Major League Baseball – perhaps most surprising of all is completing even a 60 game season and crowning a champion.

For every player 2020 presented a challenge. Elite shortstops such as Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians and Andrelton Simmons of the Los Angeles Angels seemed to have down years defensively, while Dansby Swanson of the Atlanta Braves and Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies rose to the top of the league.

Below is my ranking of defensive shortstops in MLB based on the following combination of factors:

NameWARFPDRSUZR
Trevor Story2.5.96154.0
Dansby Swanson1.9.97410-4.4
Tim Anderson2.2.9673-2,3
Francisco Lindor1.7.98125.8
Adalberto Mondesi1.4.98320.8

Now, depending on which defensive metric you have the most faith in, Fielding Percentage, Defensive Runs Saved, or Ultimate Zone Rating, this seems like a defensible ranking of defensive shortstops in MLB in 2020, perhaps with the exception of leaving out Fernando Tatis, Jr., who would certainly be number six on the list, considering his total WAR of 2.9, his impressive .984 Fielding Percentage, yet rather average numbers for DRS, a 1 and UZR, 0.9.

I would be likely to place the most emphasis on UZR in the context of a 162 game season, but Fangraphs warns of placing too much emphasis on UZR with small sample sizes:

Beware of sample sizes! If a player only spent 50 innings at a position last season, it’d be a good idea not to draw too many conclusions from their UZR score over that time. Like with any defensive statistic, you should always use three years of UZR data before trying to draw any conclusions on the true talent level of a fielder.

Not being a statistical wizard, let me say that if we looked at three years’ worth of defensive statistics for each of the shortstops in the league, we would know who the top player is over that time period. However, 2020, for all it’s weirdness, was a season, and it has its distinctive place in the history of the sport.

So the shortened season makes somewhat of a mockery of the statistics, but they’re all we have for estimating, even in a cursory way, what player accomplishments are.

DJ LeMahieu: Yankees must pay the man, The Machine

Screen Shot 2020-03-02 at 6.23.02 AM

DJ LeMahieu was once again Le Machine in the New York Yankees organization, putting up numbers offensively that outpaced even their highest expectations.

Ken Davidoff of the New York Post says today:

LeMahieu distinguished himself with his offensive consistency, defensive versatility and low-key personality, and he put up the best two seasons of his 10-year career. Consequently, he put himself in line for a significant raise even though he’ll be entering his age-33 season in 2021.

I’m not here to speculate what kind of money it would take to keep LeMahieu, but to plead with ownership to pay the man, who is destined to make a significant impact for the team and to be a Hall of Famer.

According to Baseball Reference.com, Below are some of the highlights of LeMahieu’s offensive stats for 2020:

  • WAR – third overall, second in the American League with a 2.9;
  • Offensive WAR – fourth overall, first in the American League with 2.8;
  • BA – first overall with a .364;
  • On Base Percentage – fourth overall, first in the American League with .421;
  • On Base Plus Slugging – fourth overall, first in the American League with 1.011.

DJ had an all around great offensive campaign and with the batting title assured as he goes into his free agent season, he’ll no doubt command top money.

On the defensive side of the ball, DJ had a below average season – for him – he still probably falls in the top 10 among second basemen in the league.  Now I am not a statistics guru, but I did find that his fielding percentage was .971 in 2020, his lowest since 2011 when he was still a member of the Cubs.  He had 0 DRS this season, down from 3 in 2019 (he recorded as many as 14 in 2018 while with the Rockies).  Make of this what you will, even if it’s only proof that The Machine is human after all.

The Yankees have a golden opportunity to make the best hitter in baseball a legend among legends.  LeMahieu has the makings of a Yankee who could see himself immortalized out in Monument Park some day.  Pay the man, The Machine, and ensure his future accolades come in pinstripes.

 

New York Yankees Baseball: MLB July start would help fans heal

MLB could help initiate a return to normalcy

When I woke up on Tuesday, the news had hit that Jeff Passan reported:

Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focused on a plan that could allow them to start the season as early as May and has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

I was ecstatic that plans were being made to restart the cultural machine that is Major League Baseball – it was a sign of hope in a world where business and personal lives have been stalled by the coronavirus.

It was time to begin thinking of a way out of the bind and get not only baseball, but the entire country moving again in the wake of the crisis.

Unfortunately, by mid-day on Tuesday, Commissioner Rob Manfred countered the story with the following statement:

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement Tuesday. “While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”

I realized that no “plan” existed for Passan’s proposal, and as social media aptly pointed out the  stark realities which would render any plan at this time unfeasible – the biggest drawback being that players, coaches, accompanying media and employees, would have to be sequestered in Arizona away from their families – but other factors, such as the heat in Arizona and the lack of a minor league system to replenish teams in case of injury or illness also figured into the criticism.

Today is Wednesday, April 8th, when I awoke this morning there was no such news of hope that the MLB season could be started.  But that does not mean that I believe the season is a lost cause in 2020.  Quite the contrary, I believe there will be baseball.

I don’t have an elaborate plan to offer.  I don’t have solutions for the many headaches a shortened season will cause around the league, but I believe a July start makes the most sense.

By late May, if not before, the federal and state governments should have an understanding of where the population stands with regard to fighting and shutting down the spread of the coronavirus.

And since this is a New York Yankees baseball blog, I can’t help but mention that a July start would benefit the team as key players, such as Aaron Judge, James Paxton and Aaron Hicks will be healed from injuries and ready to return to the lineup.

Instead of an All-Star break, schedule Opening Day around the country to kick off the season.  By mid-July, it may even be possible to have fans in the stands.  MLB could help initiate a return to normalcy and a fulfillment of the hope that the virus can be beaten.

Highlighting New York Yankees SS Gleyber Torres

Gleyber Torres is one of the most personable Yankees, from his engaging smile and horseplay in the dugout, to his engaging desire to speak English to the media and fans.

Torres enjoyed a highly successful offensive campaign in ’19, putting up a .278 average with 38 home runs, 90 RBIs and a 3.1 WAR.  Torres’ accolades in ’19 are included in Wikipedia:

On August 22, Torres hit his 30th home run, thus becoming the second Yankee to hit 30 or more home runs in a single season at age of 22 or younger, joining <a title="Joe DiMaggio who hit 46 home runs in 1937. His 39 home runs made him the second ever middle infielder after <a title="Alex Rodriguez to do so before turning 23, and third Yankees player since DiMaggio and <a title="Mickey Mantle to hit at least two 20+ HR seasons before the age of 23.

Torres is surely carving his name in Monument Park in his first seasons with the Yankees given the company he keeps.

On defense, Torres’ success has been more uneven.  He came up as a shortstop with the Chicago Cubs, though once traded to the Yankees, who at the time already had Didi Gregorius at shortstop, he was moved over to second base to make room for his bat with the big club.

Based on advanced fielding stats provided via Fangraphs, Empire Sports Media writer, Dillard Barnhart wrote an of Torres’ defensive abilities:

Torres is below average in every category as a second baseman. As far as shortstops are concerned, he is average when DRS is mentioned, but every other stat across the board clarifies that he is below average. In general, Torres is a below-average fielder but is a much more sufficient shortstop than a second baseman.

What fans have experienced with Torres on defense, both at second and at shortstop, is some flashes of brilliance with the glove, but also some mental lapses which have resulted in errors or hits which should not have been.

In 2020, with the loss of Gregorius to free agency, Torres has taken over the shortstop position on an everyday basis.  In Spring Training 2020, says Mark Goodman of SI.com:

Gleyber Torres committed his fifth error of the spring on Tuesday, bobbling another ball that was ruled a hit.  With five errors in Grapefruit League play thus far – tied for the most in all of baseball – is the 23 year old ready for a full-time role at shortstop?”

The Yankees have moved DJ LeMahieu to his natural position, to take advantage of his multi-Gold Glove abilities at second base.  Torres will have a full season to take over the shortstop role and make it his own.

In 2019, Torres played 77 games at shortstop with a .961 FP and -1 DRS before Gregorius returned to play after recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Torres played 65 games at second base with a .967 FP and -7 DRS.

Torres is just below average defensively.  However, there is no going back, Torres will have to make the adjustments defensively to raise his play at shortstop if he’s to complement LeMahieu up the middle.

The question Goodman asks, whether or not Torres is ready for the full-time shortstop role is, I hope, rhetorical, as the job belongs exclusively now to Torres for the first time in his career with the Yankees.  Goodman says that “taking over a position as essential as shortstop is a monumental task.”

There is plenty of truth to this statement, as the shortstop is the most pivotal player on the infield and needs to be a leader as well.  Think Derek Jeter and you see how far Torres has to reach to be great in pinstripes at shortstop.

There will be growing pains whenever a player transitions to another position and Yankee fans will have to be patient with Torres when baseball returns.  Fans can expect a steady, offensive consistency with power from the 23-year old Torres, and continuing improvement in the field.