Since shifting to a role batting cleanup for the New York Yankees this season, DJ LeMahieu has struggled at the plate.
For most of veteran infielder DJ LeMahieu's time with the New York Yankees, he's been a leadoff hitter. This season, LeMahieu has seen his role change to batting fourth or fifth in the Yankees lineup. The move was sparked by Giancarlo Stanton's injury. The Yankees have been without Stanton for six weeks, and during that time LeMahieu has struggled in the middle of the lineup. It might be time to move him out of the cleanup spot.
LeMahieu is currently batting .250, far below where the two-time batting champion expects to be. Once known for his reliability with runners in scoring position, LeMahieu only has 19 RBIs this season in 164 at-bats. He has a 26.9% strikeout rate this season which is the worst of his career. Even his walks are down this year, with just 15. LeMahieu is especially struggling with breaking balls this season. His numbers weren't great last season either, but he was dealing with a nagging toe injury throughout the 2022 campaign.
What should Yankees do about DJ Lemahieu?
Aware of the drop in his stats, LeMahieu is frustrated. He recently expressed that he doesn't understand, explaining he feels good at the plate.
"I feel like I'm hitting the ball hard," LeMahieu said. "I feel like I'm squaring the ball up. I guess I'm swinging and missing more." His struggles are especially confusing given that his hard-hit rate is up from 41.1% last year to 51.3% this year.
Recently, LeMahieu failed to get a runner in from third with a puzzling choice to bunt. Gleyber Torres was easily out at the plate. It was surprising considering that LeMahieu is historically great with RISP. On the broadcast, Michael Kay was baffled, calling it a strange move by LeMahieu. Initially, fans figured it wasn't LeMahieu's call to bunt, but it turns out it was.
LeMahieu stood by his decision, explaining he hits a lot of ground balls. He was trying to avoid a double play. LeMahieu has only grounded into a double play three times this season.
The reality is that LeMahieu will be 35 years old this summer. He hasn't lost a step with his sparkling defense, but his offense has declined. He's not likely to reach the numbers he posted as a batting champion (2016, 2020), but the Yankees need to find a way to get LeMahieu going again.
During spring training this year, manager Aaron Boone remarked that he loves LeMahieu in the leadoff spot. With LeMahieu struggling at the plate, it might sound crazy to suggest that Boone should move him back to the top of the lineup. After all, if a player isn't hitting, they're usually moved down in the batting order, not up. This solution might come as a surprise, but something needs to change, and DJ LeMahieu is built to be a leadoff hitter. That's where he's used to hitting in the lineup for the Yankees.
Even back in high school and college, LeMahieu was a leadoff hitter. In his earlier MLB days with the Colorado Rockies, LeMahieu often batted second or eighth, although he saw time in different spots in the lineup more often than he did with the Yankees from 2019-2022. LeMahieu doesn't have much experience batting in the middle of the lineup, and since he's been hitting there this season, he isn't seeing encouraging results.
Cleanup hitters are typically known for their power at the plate. That is not what LeMahieu is known for. LeMahieu is a table setter, a contact hitter who gets on base and starts off a big inning or keeps a rally going long enough to get to the big guys. LeMahieu is used to having power hitters like Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton behind him. Without a healthy Stanton, LeMahieu has been batting after the big guys. Perhaps this is contributing to his slump.
The shift in his spot in the batting order has increased the pressure on LeMahieu, who has to produce or leave it to the players who come later in the lineup. This pressure seems to have led the former All-Star to alter his approach at the plate. This could explain his higher strikeout rate.
When Stanton returns to the lineup, the Yankees should consider returning LeMahieu to a role he's comfortable in. LeMahieu might see an increase in production from the leadoff spot while knowing Judge, Rizzo, and Stanton are behind him.
DJ LeMahieu can still contribute to this team, but his current placement in the lineup is not working.2023-05-25T21:11:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd