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  • Cory Claus

Yankees DJ LeMahieu has Taken Control

The Yankees have not had the season they had hoped for. It seems as if it could go wrong, it has. Now all they can do is look forward to 2024. But for the team to have any hope of success, the veterans are going to have to produce, a list that includes DJ LeMahieu. He spent the first half of the year struggling at the plate, but he’s seemed more like himself since the All-Star break. And his turnaround started with his taking control of the strike zone.

Yankees best players can't like what they've seen this season

The Yankees are all but out of contention for this year. They still have a mathematical chance to make the playoffs, but those chances are slim. Now the team and the fans are focused on getting back into title contention next season.

More than a few things are going to have to happen for those hopes to become reality. First up is finding a few rookies that can produce, so Brian Cashman promoted their best young players from the minors.

That’s worked well. We’ve all watched as Jasson Dominguez has continued to be the same hitter he was in the minors. Everson Pereira, Austin Wells, and Oswald Peraza are starting to develop and at least will be low-cost players for next year.

The Yankees are also going to need to get more from their free-agent dollars. It shouldn’t be hard to get better production than they got from the now-released Josh Donaldson.

But one piece of that puzzle is that the current roster of veterans is going to have to play better. Fortunately, Aaron Judge is still in his prime and is very likely to post several years at an MVP level as long as he avoids trying to flatten any more walls. Giancarlo Stanton, on the other hand, has his best days clearly behind him. All the Yankees can do now is hope he still has a great season left in him. Anthony Rizzo is a real question mark because it’s impossible to tell how any player will recover from being concussed. He might shake it off or he might never be the player he once was.

The Once and Future DJ LeMahieu

Then there’s DJ LeMahieu. He’s been getting dramatically worse for the last two years. Way back in 2020, he hit .364/.421/.590 with an OPS of 1.011; those are MVP numbers. But he followed that up by slashing .268/.349/.362 and an OPS of .711 the next season then put up almost the same numbers last year (.261/.357/.377/.734).

Those are still serviceable numbers for a player who can flash a gold glove at any position in the infield.

Then came 2023. His first half was so bad it seemed he might be in the same camp as Stanton. He hit a meager .220/.285/.357 in his first 76 games–if you can call that hitting–while his OPS was a miserable .643. He looked like a shot player and had many Yankees fans, including this one, bemoaning the fact that he’s signed for three more years.

But then something happened: LeMaheiu turned it all around. We’ll likely never know why or how, as Lemahieu is an old-school player in both his swing and his attitude. He’s never one to talk about what ails him or how he’s overcome his issues. The proof, however, is in his play.

And his play has been stellar.

In his last 41 games, Mr. LeMahieu has hit a much more robust .288/.392/.493. Even better is that his OPS is .885 over that time. No one’s bemoaning him now.

That turnaround really seemed to start by DJ retaking control of the strike zone. That’s how great hitters usually turn things around, by reacquiring the plate. Anthony Volpe, for instance, has had his struggles this season, as rookies do, and that’s often revolved around him going out of the strike zone. The same could be said for LeMahieu. He seemed like he had forgotten what a ball and strike looked like. He was flailing wildly and looked off balance.

But then, back at the end of July, he took back control of the zone in a way that was obvious to all observers. In back-to-back games on July 25th and 26th, he walked three times. He hadn’t walked three times in one game all season before that and hasn’t had to since then.

Before that, pitchers could get him swinging wildly at pitches out of the zone. After that, not so much. After that, he showed they had to put ‘em over the plate if they wanted to get him out. And once they had to do that, LeMahieu started hitting. And he hasn’t stopped since. In August alone, he hit .291/.391/.506/.898; now that’s more like the DJ LeMahieu we know and love.

There's Hope for the Yankees Yet

That can’t help the Yankees get back games they lost in April and May and June. And it still leaves him with a slash line of .244/.324/.404 for the season.

What it does do, however, is restore hope for next year. If he can hit closer to his second-half numbers next year, he can once again be a driving force behind a Yankees resurgence. They’ll still need those other factors to play out in their favor, but at least they won’t have another albatross of a player dragging them down. Instead, they’ll have one lifting them up.

If he can keep control of the strike zone, he might even help them take control of the postseason.

Now that’s what hope is all about.


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