Rejoice, people of baseball, for we have a transaction! DJ LeMahieu will join the New York Yankees on two year, $24 million deal. The veteran second baseman brings an excellent glove and high contact/low power bat to the lineup.
LeMahieu is NOT the perfect addition to the Yankee infield. That would have been Manny Machado, and this signing likely ends any possibility of the biggest free agent infielder landing in New York. That’s excellent news if you’re a Phillies, White Sox, or mystery team fan. (They should sell mystery team shirseys.) If you like the Yankees, it’s less excellent, but still pretty good!
Setting aside momentary grief for what could have been, LeMahieu fits very nicely with the Yankees. Prior to the signing, their starting infield read as Miguel Andújar at third base, Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, Gleyber Torres at second, and Luke Voit at first. (Didi Gregorius will remain injured for most of the season.) Three of those players accumulated -46.1 UZR/150 last season. The fourth is Tulowitzki, who’s UZR/150 was -2.3 in 2017 when he was last seen on a baseball field.
Clearly, a defensive upgrade was necessary. Barring some unrealistic trade for Andrelton Simmons or Francisco Lindor, LeMahieu is the best possible option. By any measure, he was the best defensive second baseman in MLB last year. He led all keystone players in DRS (18), UZR (11.0) and UZR/150 (12.5). He even collected his third Gold Glove, for whatever that’s worth. However, he may spend time at more than one position.
The Yankees plan to use LeMahieu as a versatile player around the infield. They will use him at second base, first base and third base.— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) January 11, 2019
The biggest selling point on LeMahieu may be his defense, but he’s no one-dimensional player. He’s a career .298 hitter who won a batting title in 2016! Seeing as there’s no better measure for offense than batting average, he’s well on his way to the Hall of Fame!
Seriously though, he is a really good contact hitter, even if there’s little in the way of power. He’s hit only 49 career home runs through 3,799 plate appearances, half of which have been at Coors Field. He did smack 15 bombs in 2018, which was a career high, but it’s probably not repeatable.
LeMahieu is essentially a high on base guy with low power, and the on base percentage is mostly driven by batting average. His career wRC+ is 90, which is close to average for a second baseman. The position as a whole averaged a 93 wRC+ across MLB last year.
Overall, he was a 2.0 fWAR player in 2018, which is basically the same as he was in 2017 (1.9) and 2015 (1.9). In his career year of 2016, he reached 4.4 fWAR, so that’s likely his ceiling, Basically, the Yankees are getting an average starting caliber player who addresses their weaknesses well.
Or ARE they (duh duh duhhhh)...
Baseball Prospectus recently rolled out their brand new, all-encompassing offensive metric: DRC+. One of its most fascinating features is the way it values Colorado players more highly than other park-adjusted metrics. As BP’s Patrick Dubuque describes, wRC+ overpenalizes Rockies batters, and DRC+ describes them more accurately. LeMahieu is no exception.
LeMahieu’s offense by OPS+, wRC+, and DRC+
DRC+ consistently likes LeMahieu better than either OPS+ or wRC+. As a result, his WARP (17.7) over the last four years is much higher than his fWAR (10.2) or bWAR (13.6). He still derives a lot of his value from defense, but BP thinks he’s an above average hitter, whereas other sites place him below the mean.
LeMahieu could have a major outlier season next year in either direction, or he could get hurt. He’ll just be one data point by which we evaluate DRC+, and that’s not enough to make any conclusions. Still, it will be fascinating to see how he fares now that he’s out of Colorado, and whether he performs closer to his usual DRC+ numbers or wRC+ and OPS+. The Yankees are banking on the former.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983