Yankees’ veteran utility man has completely flipped the script

mlb: game two-new york yankees at boston red sox, dj lemahieu
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees‘ 2023 season has been a tale of underachievement and disappointment, particularly due to highly paid veterans failing to live up to expectations. Bloated contracts and subpar performances have been the bane of the team’s existence. Despite this, the front office is optimistic that a healthier roster will provide better value in 2024.

The DJ LeMahieu Saga: Turning Tides Post All-Star Break

While big-hitter Giancarlo Stanton continues to underperform relative to his substantial salary, utilityman DJ LeMahieu has been a silver lining, particularly in the season’s second half. Over the year, LeMahieu has a batting average of .243 and a .323 OBP, including 15 home runs, 43 RBIs, a career-worst 22% strikeout rate, a 10% walk rate, and a 101 wRC+. These are his most underwhelming offensive statistics since 2018, not to mention a record low in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). However, things took a positive turn for LeMahieu after a coaching switch—from the ousted Dillon Lawson to the newly appointed Sean Casey.

In the period following the All-Star break, LeMahieu’s performance has seen a marked improvement: a batting average of .280, an OBP of .379, a slugging percentage of .463, and a 136 wRC+, along with eight home runs, 16 RBIs, and a 13.3% walk rate. The improved numbers breathe fresh air into the notion that DJ could be back to his prime form in 2024.

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Financial Obligations vs. On-Field Contributions

At 35, LeMahieu isn’t a spring chicken, but he’s not ready for the roost either. He’s contracted through 2027, with the Yankees owing him an average of $15 million per season. The veteran is more than just a placeholder; he offers valuable defensive capabilities as well. Over 587.2 innings at third base this season, DJ boasts a .994 fielding percentage, having saved three defensive runs and posting three outs above average.

Filling the Gaps: LeMahieu’s Role in 2024

The Yankees face a dilemma at third base. However, they may turn to LeMahieu to hold down the fort, thereby allowing Oswald Peraza to adopt a more flexible, utility role—covering multiple infield positions. This plan could particularly come in handy if DJ spends time at first base.

Youth vs. Experience: A Balanced Infield for the Yankees

While the Yankees’ infield is expected to get younger, LeMahieu remains a constant presence. His second-half resurgence signals not only his capability to play every day but also to justify his hefty price tag. As for Stanton, well, that’s another story altogether.