During the offseason, the New York Yankees committed to pay infielder DJ LeMahieu $90 million over the course of the next six years. He was a free agent and the Bombers made retaining him a priority.
They did it because he had produced fantastic numbers over two years with the Yankees. In 2019, the veteran had a .327/.375/.518 line with 26 homers, 106 runs, and 102 RBI, and last season, he hit .364/.421/.590 in 2020, when he was crowned as MLBâ€™s batting champion.
This year, though, LeMahieu has slumped all the way to a .253/.335/.321 line, with only three home runs and a putrid .068 isolated power after finishing with .226 in 2020 and .191 two years prior.
What has happened with the Yankeesâ€™ offensive machine? For starters, his average exit velocity is almost two mph lower this year, with 89.8, than 2020 (91.3) and 2019 (91.9). His hard-hit rate (percentage of times he has hit a ball at 95 mph or higher) is 42.7, three percentage points lower than the 45.7 he had in 2020.
But the main problem, and one that actually presented itself last year even when he was making the most of his batted ball quality, is ground balls. He hit 2.68 grounder per every fly ball last campaign, and he hasnâ€™t been much better this year at 2.33.
The Yankees machine hasnâ€™t been producing
In his first season with the Yankees, 2019, LeMahieu had a 1.91 GB/FB rate, which is still high, but much more palatable. Ground balls are the worst possible outcome when it comes to making contact, and LeMahieu is not lifting the ball.
Yankeesâ€™ manager Aaron Boone seems to think LeMahieu is close to a breakthrough. â€œThereâ€™s been times, especially over the last 10 days or two weeks, where heâ€™s hit into some tough luck and I feel like heâ€™s really close with this flat swing and getting some good swings off,â€ Boone told reporters, per NJ Advance Media.
Luck is, in fact, another factor. Last year he got lucky (.429 wOBA vs. .361 xwOBA) and this year, he has been unlucky (.295 wOBA vs. .329 xwOBA). These things usually even out over time.
It remains to be seen if LeMahieu can regain his 2020, or even 2019 form. But he has a long way to go.