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DJ LeMahieu may be the most underrated free agent on the market

It’s not just his defense. Baseball Prospectus’s new hitting metric loves him, too.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

On the first day of the Winter Meetings, interest in DJ LeMahieu began to percolate. Jon Heyman reported the Dodgers and Nationals were showing interest. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser also reported that the A’s were thinking of picking him up. LeMahieu has been something of an afterthought in this offseason. MLB Trade Rumors put him at 33rd on their top-50 free agent list right behind Brian Dozier. In our series of free agent previews, he was relegated to the mid-tier free agents piece.

He turned 30 this year, and the past two seasons he’s hit for a 94 and 86 wRC+. He’s an elite defender at second but a below-average hitter. Ordinarily, those kinds of players don’t age well beyond 30. He’s predicted to get a two-year contract, three if he’s lucky, and that feels about right.

But according to DRC+, LeMahieu is criminally underrated. According to DRC+, LeMahieu has been an above-average hitter for the last four years, his lowest mark just 105. Even in 2018, which all three adjusted hitting metrics agree was his worst year, DRC+ was impressed with LeMahieu’s hitting.

DJ LeMahieu 2018 Hitting Ranks

Stat Mark Rank (Qualified Hitters)
Stat Mark Rank (Qualified Hitters)
OPS+ 88 122
wRC+ 86 123
DRC+ 105 81

He had the highest difference in rank between wRC+ and DRC+ for any qualified hitter in 2018. The two stats have disagreed over LeMahieu more wildly in the past, too. In 2015, there was a 50-point difference in his rankings for DRC+ and wRC+.

WARP, which now factors in DRC+ rather than TAv, is also more favorable of LeMahieu of than other WAR measurements.

DJ LeMahieu WAR

Site Career Hitting 2018 WAR 2018 WAR Rank (NL) Career WAR WAR/600 PA
Site Career Hitting 2018 WAR 2018 WAR Rank (NL) Career WAR WAR/600 PA
Baseball Reference 92 OPS+ 3.0 39 17.6 2.8
FanGraphs 90 wRC+ 2.0 63 11.1 1.7
Baseball Prospectus 105 DRC+ 4.8 9 22.1 3.4

FanGraphs thinks that LeMahieu has been about an average player, and Baseball Reference thinks he’s been a bit better than that. Baseball Prospectus on the other hand, thinks that LeMahieu should have been picking up down-ballot MVP votes this year. He was just 0.3 points behind NL MVP Christian Yelich.

Something to consider is how little DRC+ penalizes hitters for playing half of their games in Coors Field. The Rockies were 25th in wRC+, 23rd in OPS and 7th in DRC+. If DRC+ existed before the season began, we might have been talking about the MVP race between Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado. It’s hard to put aside my preconceived biases of Coors Field, but according to wRC+, the Rockies have never been an above average team. Even if DRC+ is a little too favorable to Rockies, it’s likely wRC+ discredits hitters too much for the Coors effect.

It’s also worth pointing out that DJ LeMahieu’s DRC+ standard deviation (or margin of error) was 16 which is tied for 16th highest among qualified hitters. Still, even at the bottom end of his error bar, he was still a more productive hitter than OPS+ or wRC+ thought he was.

In most cases, DRC+ aligns with what the general perception of a player is. Mike Trout is still the best hitter in baseball, Barry Bonds still has the three best seasons in history. But what DRC+ thinks of LeMahieu defies at least my expectations. I’ve always thought of him as a player that would wither outside of Coors Field. Since 2012, his first year with the Rockies, he’s had a .681 OPS on the road and an .834 OPS at Coors. But if DRC+ is right about him, he could be the steal of the offseason.

Thank you to Jonathan Judge and the team at Baseball Prospectus for supplying data that was used in this article.

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles.