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All-Star worthy DJ LeMahieu "can't get beat" at the plate right now

Jake Shapiro Avatar
July 5, 2016

 

You may know Colorado Rockies 2015 All Star DJ LeMahieu as a glove first, push-hitting second basemen. You’d be right if you were evaluating the six-foot-four, 215-pound middle infielder up until this year. But something has happened; LeMahieu has turned himself into an elite hitting second baseman.

His .322 batting average, which is fourth in the National League is a pretty impressive mark considering he’s a career .289 hitter. Though, to his credit, it’s his second straight year above .300 after a weak 2014 saw him hitting .267. More impressive with LeMahieu is that he has 30 extra base hits in 74 games, his high for extra-base hits in a season is 32. He did that a year ago in 150 games.

LeMahieu is socking the ball and doing it harder than he ever has. He’s fourth in the NL in most balls hit with an exit velocity over 100 MPH this year at 81. And he’s improved his hard hit rate from 26% last year to 36% this season.

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One of the reasons he’s hit the ball harder is because he is pulling it more than he did before. LeMahieu tells us this has come as a reaction to teams shifting their defensive players to the opposite field. What’s remarkable is that he’s stayed long through the zone continuing to make contact despite the approach change. In fact, LeMahieu is third in baseball, and first in the NL, in posting the least amount of swings and misses at 4.2%, also a career best.

“No, I’m just taking good swings on balls,” LeMahieu told BSN Denver as he rejected the notion of a new approach. “I think a lot of it has to do with experience. I feel like I’m not doing anything different, really.”

Despite his rejection of a new approach, the statistics tell otherwise. He’s mashing the ball at an unheralded rate for him.

“I just feel very relaxed,” the Rockies star second baseman said. “I don’t really think I’ve made any physical adjustments. Mentally, I feel very comfortable. I feel like I can’t get beat. So when I get a pitch I can drive I feel like I take a little bit more of a chance to drive it, but it’s nothing new for me, probably just executing better.”

The execution on mistake pitches is at a level LeMahieu admits he hasn’t been on since high school but he tells me, “I think if you’re in this league long enough, players that stick around, they continue to get better. And I just feel like I’m getting better.”

It is evident he is completely comfortable as a big leaguer, but not many make a considerable improvement in a major area of the game in their sixth MLB season. At 27, LeMahieu, still on the front-end of his prime, has found places where he can work to turn himself into an elite player.

“Thank you!” LeMahieu said with glee about the possibility of him being one of the best at his position in the league. “I don’t really think about that. I bat in the two-hole and I just try to get on base for Nolan [Arenado] and do what I can offensively … but yeah, I appreciate that.”

Ever the unassuming professional, LeMahieu’s humility is highly conducive to self-betterment. It is what has allowed him to succeed despite some shuffling in the lineup. In 31 games batting second he is slugging .55o but in 11 games at the eighth spot he’s slugging .571. And when he hits eight or ninth (which he has done 15 times) he has a ridiculous .500 OBP.

“I hit eight-hole my first two years in the league and I feel like that helped me really understand the strike zone; when pitchers were gonna come after me and when not,” he said. “When I was in the minors I swung at everything. I didn’t walk at all. I probably had like two or three pitches per at-bat. But hitting in that eight-hole … I feel like that’s helped me become a better player.”

He’s also been good in a few games at the seven spot, but when the Rockies have thrown him into the leadoff spot or run-producing spots of five or six he hasn’t succeeded. Yet, he hasn’t spent much time in those spots so we may as well just consider him in the two or eight spot. And when that happens, “It doesn’t really matter where I hit,” he explained. “For me, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference,” and he’s right.

-Caitlin Rice, BSN Denver
-Caitlin Rice, BSN Denver

The formerly “glove-first” LeMahieu is now a complete player, a threat from every angle. He hits for average and power, something even today very few second baseman can do. While Daniel Murphy, Matt Carpenter and Ben Zobrist are worthy of the trip to San Diego, LeMahieu has proved this season he is just as deserving to represent the National League in the All-Star Game as anyone.

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