Former LSU standout DJ LeMahieu indispensable for title-hunting Bronx Bombers
He’s not the typical home run basher for a New York Yankees player, but DJ LeMahieu is still getting the job done for the first-place team in the American League East. In fact, he’s been the backbone of the lineup since Opening Day, and he will wind up as a strong AL MVP candidate at the end of the season.
Acquired by Yankees with the intent of using him as a super utility player, LeMahieu came to the Yankees along with Rockies teammates (shortstop) Troy Tulowitzki and (reliever) Adam Ottovino.
The Yankees had been a solid team the year before, winning 100 games but still finishing behind the Boston Red Sox. The latest version of the Bronx Bombers featured a lineup of big bats that included Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, and Luke Voit. That group powered the team to a league-leading 267 home runs in 2018. They were expected to challenge World Series champion Boston for the AL East Division in 2019.
When the Yankees incurred a devastating number of injuries in the early part of the season (at the peak, 11 players on the roster were on the injured list), LeMahieu became indispensable.
Tulowitzki was supposed to be the backfill for injured shortstop Didi Gregorious, who was recovering from Tommy John surgery during the off-season. However, Tulowitzki flamed out early in the season from injuries himself. LeMahieu’s availability to play second base everyday allowed Gleyber Torres to then backfill Tulowitzki.
Yankees resorted to putting up a patchwork lineup practically every day, but LeMahieu was the one constant throughout the tumultuous period. In addition to playing second, LeMahieu also played third and first in the field. The Yankees didn’t fold, as many had anticipated because of all the injuries. Instead, they remained close to first place early and then took over the top spot on May 19. LeMahieu has been a big factor in their current standing.
LeMahieu has responded by leading the American League in batting average (.330), leading the Yankees in RBI (67), and leading the league in average with runners in scoring position. His nickname in Yankee Stadium has become “LaMachine” for his reliable offensive production throughout the season. He was voted to the All-Star team as the starting second baseman.
It’s not as though he hasn’t been a productive player before. He previously won a batting title (.348 in 2016) and has been a Gold Glove winner three times. He had become a perennial .300 hitter, although there were suspicions he was benefitting from playing at offense-friendly Coors Field
However, in 2018 his batting average fell 34 points and his on-base percentage dropped 53 points from the year before. He went on the injured list three times. At 29-years-old, the Rockies gave up on him and granted him free agency when his contract expired at the end of the season.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s signing of LeMahieu turned out to be a brilliant move. The way he is currently playing, the youngsters on the team have become the utility players. Even though the Yankees’ power hitters have returned to the lineup, LeMahieu still maintains an important role on the team. He has become entrenched as the Yankees’ leadoff batter, with a healthy .374 on-base percentage, and he leads the team in runs scored. He’s also been a good presence in a clubhouse that has a lot of younger players.
LeMahieu played for LSU in 2008 and 2009. He helped the Tigers win their sixth national championship in 2009, when he hit .444 and was named to the College World Series all-tournament team. He was selected in the second round by the Chicago Cubs in the 2009 MLB Draft. After making his major-league debut with the Cubs in 2011, he was traded to the Rockies before the 2012 season.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.