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DJ LeMahieu to Yankees - Fantasy Impact

The Yankees needed to fill a void in their infield with Didi Gregorius likely to miss the first four months of the season and Troy Tulowitzki being unreliable to say the least. New York was (and still is?) heavily linked to superstar Manny Machado, but it was another former All-Star that the Yankees inked on Jan. 11. With a two-year, $24 million deal for DJ LeMahieu, the Yankees now have one of the better fielding infielders that has a career .298 batting average.

The 2016 NL batting champion, LeMahieu had a .276/.321/.428 slash line with the Rockies in 2018 including a career-high 15 home runs and 49 extra-base hits. While his batting average was the lowest it has been since 2014, and his .321 OBP far below his .350 career tally, LeMahieu now has three consecutive seasons with at least 40 extra-base hits.

With the Yankees having a seemingly logjammed infield, what impact will DJ LeMahieu have on the 2019 Yankees and fantasy rosters?

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What Impact Will LeMahieu Have In Pinstripes?

When looking at LeMahieu, the first thing that you need to evaluate is how he fits for the 2019 Yankees. Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Luke Voit, Troy Tulowitzki will all have claims to playing time in New York (and this is before Didi Gregorius returns); a player of LeMahieu's caliber defensively will be very useful.

A three-time Gold Glove winner, LeMahieu is the best fielder in the Yankees infield and may be asked to play 3B and 1B as well as 2B. While we will take an in-depth look at his value as a hitter, LeMahieu's value as a fielder may have him add up to two positions of eligibility this season.


DJ's Greatest Hits (and Misses)

Looking at LeMahieu's last four seasons, 2016 and 2018 seem to be polar outliers. In 2016, LeMahieu hit .348 with a .911 OPS, clubbing eight triples, scoring 104 runs, and posting his only 10 home run/10 stolen base season. Last season, LeMahieu took a step back as chronicled above, failing to hit .300 after posting three consecutive seasons with a .300 batting average. Just looking at 2015 and 2017 then, LeMahieu had a .306 batting average while averaging 90 runs scored, and 36 extra-base hits.

There was a bit of an outlier in terms of stolen bases in that time span (stealing 23 of 26 bases in 2015), but those numbers are more than acceptable for a MI or lower-tiered 2B1. An issue for fantasy owners is that LeMahieu has stolen only 12 bases in the last two seasons combined after topping 10 stolen bases for four consecutive years and the Yankees will not help his running game either; as a team, the Yankees ran only 84 times last season, the fourth-fewest stolen base attempts in baseball.

2018 was a step back for LeMahieu and we need to take a look at his batted ball statistics to see what changed. The first thing that jumps off of the page is that his FB% jumped nearly 10% YoY to a career-high 29.5% and his hard-hit ball rate was 35% (a fraction below his career-high 35.2% in 2016). This justifies his 15 home runs in 2018 (supported by a 11.1% HR/FB rate), but a dip in his line drive rate (to 21%) shows that the change in approach may have led to a dip in batting average.

When LeMahieu hit .348 in 2016, he had a 26.6% line drive rate and 90.2% contact rate; those numbers dipped to 21% and 87.5% last season and he also swung at 26% of pitches outside of the zone. He walked in just 6.4% of plate appearances as well (after posting a 10.4% rate in 2016 and 8.7% in 2017) and had a 5.2% swinging strike rate after posting tallies in the 4% range in the previous two seasons.

The Yankees are hoping that LeMahieu returns to the patient, line drive hitter that he was in the past, especially considering that he had a 29.8% pull rate last season. While Coors Field is good for power (more on that below), the left-field line is 347 ft. at Coors and just 314 ft. at Yankee Stadium. If LeMahieu continues his approach from 2016 and 2017 (while pulling the ball with authority like he did in 2018), he could hit closer to .300 once again while still hitting 10-15 home runs.


New York > Colorado?

So LeMahieu is moving to one of the best hitter's parks in baseball and this should instantly boost all of his statistics? Well, he is also coming from the hitter's haven that is Coors Field, where he had a .329/.386/.447 slash line in 470 career games. Considering that his career slash line is .298/.350/.406, yeah, Coors helped make LeMahieu a fantasy asset. As we mentioned in the previous paragraph, LeMahieu is a line drive hitter (no matter what his 2018 season showed) and Yankee Stadium basically had the same park effects for lefty line drive hitters as Coors did last season.

Coors was markedly better for line drive hitters in 2016 and 2017, though, so fantasy owners need to keep that in mind as well (particularly considering that 2016 and 2017 where LeMahieu's two best seasons). As for run creation, Yankee Stadium and Coors are both top-10 in park factors for runs scored for right-handed batters and, while Coors is the third-best ballpark for homers for righties, LeMahieu's new home is also above average for homers as well.



Currently, LeMahieu looks like he will either bat directly at the top or the bottom of the Yankees lineup, essentially giving the Yankees two leadoff-type hitters with LeMahieu and Brett Gardner back-to-back. This will likely lead to LeMahieu topping 90 runs scored for the fourth consecutive season and could see him top 100 runs scored for the second time of his career. While the Yankees would like him to cut down on his hacking from 2018 (seeing his OBP approach .375 once again), Yankee Stadium is also a good enough hitter's ballpark that LeMahieu could still end up approaching 45 extra-base hits.

Furthermore, there were only 10 players that had at least 15 home runs and 90 runs scored while maintaining a .290 batting average season (all doable totals for LeMahieu), just showing the value that he can have for a fantasy roster. When you add in the fact that he will likely play all over the infield, it may not be a shock if LeMahieu finishes within the top-200 (or even top-150) this season.

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