No one has really been able to agree on how good DJ LeMahieu has been throughout his career. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference both have him as being a sub-par hitter who has been buoyed by Coors Field according to wRC+ and OPS+ respectively.
When Baseball Prospectus rolled out DRC+, LeMahieu looked like an above average hitter who was getting dinged by the other metrics too harshly. Baseball Prospectus has since polished DRC+ by isolating park effects from predictions. LeMahieu’s 2018 went from a 105 to 98 DRC+, but that’s still a 12-point difference between his wRC+ from last season.
It was fair to think that LeMahieu would wither away from Coors. During his time with the Rockies, LeMahieu posted an .834 OPS at home. The spacious outfield grass afforded him a .374 BABIP as balls dinked and dunked in for singles, and vast gaps provided extra base hits that elsewhere would be cut-off by the defense. The only other player with a higher BABIP at home during that time was Jonathan Villar, and he barely eked by at .375 (min. 1000 plate appearances). On the road, however, LeMahieu didn’t have near the same results. His OPS away from Coors was just .681.
LeMahieu isn’t alone in having severe home-road splits as a member of the Colorado Rockies. The Rox have the largest home advantage in baseball but not substantially so.
Mike Petriello found that generally, players’ road performance rebounds once they leave the Rockies. Maybe if LeMahieu’s numbers at home dwindled, his numbers on the road would at least improve.
Halfway through the season, LeMahieu has been better wherever he plays. At his new home in Yankee Stadium, he has a .957 OPS. On the road, he has an .845 OPS. Overall, he’s hitting .336/.385/.522. He’s three home runs shy of matching his career-high in home runs at 15, and we’re just about at the season’s halfway point.
Even Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections, which again are higher on LeMahieu than other systems, didn’t imagine that he’d be this good. LeMahieu’s 128 DRC+ and .906 OPS each surpass his 90th percentile projections of 125 and .837 respectively. He’s on pace to have his best season by whichever WAR you choose. Yesterday, he was elected to his third All-Star Game and his second start in the Midsummer Classic.
It’s hard to say exactly what LeMahieu has done differently. His 47.3 hard-hit rate is up four percentage points from his average since 2015. He’s raised his average launch angle two degrees, but his 7 degree mark is still below the MLB average of 11. He started hitting the ball in the air more in 2018, which helped him hit more homers last year but nothing like what he’s done this year. He’s also still mostly a line drive and ground ball hitter.
LeMahieu has been a bit more aggressive this year both at pitches inside and outside the zone. Per Pitch Info, his 46.4 percent swing rate is his highest since 2014. That doesn’t seem like enough to take him from “sometimes good because of Coors” to undeniably good.
LeMahieu is more or less the same guy, and that’s not a bad thing. He has always been good at making contact and hitting the ball hard, and maybe it’s just as simple as that (with some benefit of a juiced ball). It’s also possible he’s always been great, and Coors just made that impossible to appreciate.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.