Every time infielder D.J. LeMahieu has one of many performances the Yankees have come to depend on this season — a multi-hit recreation with a number of runs pushed in — the tweet officially announcing his signing on Jan. 14 resurfaces as a playful reminder of how a lot has modified.
“Right this moment, the Yankees introduced that they’ve signed INF DJ LeMahieu to a 2-year contract via the 2020 season,” the primary a part of the Yankees’ tweet learn.
The replies weren’t fairly. “Simply gonna go away this right here …” learn one response, adopted by a screenshot of LeMahieu’s statistics from final season that confirmed his struggles away from the hitter-friendly Coors Subject in Denver. One other response learn merely, “Lol.”
“That’s a bizarre technique to spell Manny Machado,” Anthony Sessa, a 28-year-old Yankees fan, tweeted.
For a lot of, together with LeMahieu himself, his Yankees arrival didn’t fairly make sense. They’d loads of infielders, together with the All-Star Gleyber Torres at second base, the place the place LeMahieu had received a number of awards for his protection.
“I undoubtedly obtained a number of texts, ‘Shocking signal,’” LeMahieu recalled lately. His mates and former teammates didn’t perceive why he went to the Yankees.
LeMahieu has not solely match, he has emerged because the catalyst for the group with the most effective report in baseball coming into Friday. His hitting prowess earned him the nickname The Machine, coined by catcher Gary Sanchez, and his defensive versatility rescued the Yankees via all of their accidents.
“He’s been one of the priceless gamers within the league,” Yankees Supervisor Aaron Boone stated earlier this month. “He’s been all the things we may’ve hoped after we signed him.”
After going 2 for five within the Yankees’ Eight-2 victory on Friday in opposition to his former group, the Colorado Rockies, LeMahieu led the American League with a .330 common. He has produced key hits in essential moments. When he began at second base for the A.L. in the course of the All-Star Recreation earlier this month, it proved he wasn’t only a product of Coors Subject.
“That man rakes,” Yankees middle fielder Aaron Hicks stated. “He’s a real hitter.”
The Yankees lured LeMahieu, the 2016 Nationwide League batting champion for hitting .348, to New York with a two-year, $24 million deal. That appears like a discount now, but appeared puzzling when the deal was made within the winter.
On the time, the Yankees already had Miguel Andujar penciled in at third base, Luke Voit or Greg Hen at first base, Troy Tulowitzki as a placeholder at shortstop till Didi Gregorius’s return from elbow surgical procedure in the summertime, and Torres at second base. However the Yankees, who solely briefly thought-about Machado, knew that depth was very important — and so they have been later confirmed proper with substantial accidents to Andujar, Hen, Tulowitzki and others.
LeMahieu, although, was a three-time Gold Glove winner at second base, so why would he surrender excellence at one place for a multi-positional position?
“Successful a Gold Glove is cool,” stated LeMahieu, who had often performed first and third base earlier in his profession. “However I believe exhibiting as much as the yard and figuring out we’re going to win day-after-day is a fairly good feeling, too.”
LeMahieu, 31, pointed to a deeper motive for his willingness to sacrifice the safety of second base: the Los Angeles Dodgers. All these years of dealing with the Dodgers, who’ve received the N.L. West six straight seasons and appeared previously two World Sequence, confirmed LeMahieu the worth of versatility. The Dodgers’ rosters of late have featured Swiss-Military-knife-like gamers who can deal with a number of positions and pose a frightening problem to any group’s matchups.
“They weren’t made to only get to the playoffs, however win the playoffs,” LeMahieu stated. “You herald a brand new pitcher and so they have a complete new lineup. It’s annoying to play in opposition to. However I noticed the way it labored there and I noticed it as an analogous state of affairs right here.”
Despite the fact that LeMahieu had the prospect to play second base extra usually elsewhere, such because the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees appeared to have the most effective provide, in line with Yankees Basic Supervisor Brian Cashman, and LeMahieu stated he needed to play for a group dedicated to successful. No enjoying time was promised, LeMahieu stated, however he trusted the Yankees.
“There are such a lot of good gamers right here and I simply felt like I used to be going to suit someplace or one other,” he stated. “I simply didn’t understand how.”
The Yankees guess that LeMahieu’s athleticism and drive would enable him to adapt to different positions with out challenge, and his high-contact method was engaging for a house run-bopping group.
LeMahieu has displayed a bit of extra edge than anticipated, from his emotion on the sector to his feedback off it. Earlier this season, Boone stated opponents shouldn’t be fooled by LeMahieu’s quiet depth. “He’s on the market to tear your coronary heart out.”
Earlier than he may show his price in New York, LeMahieu wanted to tweak his hitting. He was coming off a 2018 season by which he made three journeys to the injured listing and hit .276 in 128 video games, his lowest totals in a minimum of 4 years. And the distinction between his hitting at thin-air Coors Subject and on the street was extra pronounced than previously.
An underlying attribute bugged LeMahieu. As a result of he hit the ball onerous but at a low angle, LeMahieu stated the Rockies prompt final season that he modify his hitting angle to provide extra house runs. He toyed with that and hit a profession greatest 15 house runs, however felt inconsistent all season.
“What they have been saying is true,” LeMahieu stated. “However the most effective factor for me was that I got here again this low season and I stated, ‘The hitter I used to be final yr wasn’t me.’”
So he rededicated himself to being, above all, a tricky at-bat for opponents, and utilizing all fields. He’s so devoted to that ethos that he stated it bothered him two seasons in the past when opponents shifted their protection usually in opposition to him. Final yr, he pulled the ball to left area greater than ever.
LeMahieu was reassured throughout his first dialog with the Yankees hitting coaches, Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere. They instructed him to be the most effective model of himself, hitting the ball to middle and proper fields, not essentially over the fence. “That was the most effective factor I may’ve heard coming right here,” LeMahieu stated.
Thames stated the Yankees didn’t need to change LeMahieu’s confirmed right-handed swing. All they did, Thames stated, after analyzing previous seasons was counsel that LeMahieu be extra aggressive early within the rely with runners on base. The end result: coming into Friday’s recreation, LeMahieu was second within the main leagues with a .439 common with runners in scoring place.
“He took it and ran with it,” Thames stated. “He’s doing a heck of a job.”
What makes LeMahieu among the best at making contact in an period stuffed with gamers utilizing house run-focused, strikeout-prone uppercut hacks is his flat swing that sweeps via the strike zone. Any photograph of LeMahieu mid-swing reveals him dropping his proper knee low to the bottom.
“His barrel will get at the back of the zone early and it stays in there,” Thames stated. “I’m an enormous fan of fellows utilizing their decrease half and he actually makes use of it to the intense.”
LeMahieu shrugged off questions on his swing, saying it had developed through the years and that he didn’t suppose a lot about its mechanics. He stated he didn’t know why he was hitting for extra energy this season — his launch angle (6.2 p.c), slugging share (.508) and residential runs (13 house runs via 87 video games) are on tempo to be profession highs — past hitting the ball onerous.
“I simply really feel like I’m in a very good place proper now and my swing is repeatable,” he stated.
LeMahieu stated his expertise with the Yankees has been all the things he hoped for, regardless of the preliminary skepticism.
“It wasn’t an apparent match,” he stated. “It simply wasn’t. But it surely labored out and it’s working and hopefully it really works out within the playoffs.”
And for these followers who’ve been teased since January for his or her disbelief, LeMahieu has certainly turned out higher than everybody hoped.
“That is higher than the most effective case situation,” Sessa stated in a phone interview. “I’m by no means happier to have been incorrect.”