DJ LeMahieu has been, without question, the best and most consistent player on the New York Yankees‘ roster if we consider the fact that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have missed precious time with several injuries.
After all, he led all Yankees players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in the last two seasons, with 5.3 in 2019 and 2.5 in the shortened 2020 campaign.
LeMahieu was the 2020 MLB batting champion and slashed .364/.421/.590 with a .422 weighted On Base Average (wOBA) and a 176 weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+.
However, the fact that he is a good hitter doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t overrated by some fans and media outlets.
And being overrated shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a bad sign, nor is it LeMahieu’s fault in this case.
3 Reasons Why DJ LeMahieu Is Overrated
1. His overall track record isn’t as good as his last two seasons
In 2019, LeMahieu slashed .327/.375/.518 with a .375 wOBA and a 135 wRC+, while hitting 26 home runs, scoring 109 runs and driving in 102 in 145 games.
Last season was equally productive, with the aforementioned .364/.421/.590 slash line, 10 home runs, 41 runs, and 27 RBI in 50 games.
But his .305/.357/.430 line and 100 career wRC+ is the profile of an average player.
It’s evident that he made some skill gains in the last two seasons with the Yankees, and that he is no longer just “average”; he has the profile of a well above-average offensive producer.
But the notion that he is an “elite” offensive performance may a bit too much, as he is outside the MLB top 5 in wRC+ in the last two seasons, barely cracking the top 10 with 146.
He is also outside of the top 10 in Fangraphs’ version of WAR over that span, with 7.8, far from the 11.0 of the leader, Mike Trout.
If we judge him by expected wOBA, a metric that helps us judge a player’s performance based on quality of and amount of contact as opposed to outcomes, he ranked 44th in the league with .355.
Very Good? Of course. All-Star? You bet. Top 5 performer in MLB? Not quite.
2. There are a couple of troubling stats under the hood
As good as LeMahieu’s .364 in 2020 looks, advanced stats like wOBA and wRC+ are better tools to measure offensive performance and its sustainability over time.
We also know that the more fly balls a batter hits, the more chances he has to hit a home run.
DJ LeMahieu’s ground-ball percentage in 2020 was a very troubling 56.6%, the third-highest in the league.
That means that more than half of his batted balls were on the ground, where they inflict the least possible damage.
Additionally, LeMahieu’s average home run distance was just 361 feet in 2020, the third-worst in the league.
Lowest avg HR distance:
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) February 8, 2021
According to Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the league is making changes to the ball for the upcoming campaign, which are expected to reduce offense.
MLB is making changes to the baseball – not the game. The ball.
The changes may appear minor, but past history suggests very small changes to the ball’s construction can be a big deal.
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) February 8, 2021
LeMahieu’s output in that category could be severely short of expectations.
On the other hand, LeMahieu’s Statcast profile was mostly promising, except for one category: Barrel percentage.
His barrel% of 2.9 in 2020 was one of the worst of his career since the Statcast era began in 2015, ranking in the 9th percentile.
These stats raise some fair questions about the sustainability of his 2020 performance, as does his expected wOBA – wOBA differential of 0.067 – he had a .422 wOBA and a .355 xwOBA.
3. His defense may already be declining
For years, LeMahieu was seen as a plus fielder at second base, and it was true.
However, he didn’t have his finest performance in 2020 with the glove.
He ranked in the 20th percentile with -1 Outs Above Average, a Statcast metric to evaluate defense: that means that 80% of his peers were better than him.
Additionally, LeMahieu was below average for the first time since 2016 according to Fangraphs’ fielding runs, with -1.2.
All in all, DJ LeMahieu is a fine player, a very good asset to have.
But he is not better than Trout, Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis, Freddie Freeman, Cody Bellinger, Ronald Acuña, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and several others.