ARLINGTON, Tex. — DJ LeMahieu did not win the American League batting title, but the low-key, no-fuss infielder had already reached the mark he really wanted Friday night. He just shrugged off finishing second to White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson after the final game on Sunday. When he finally got past that 100-RBI mark, his teammates gave him a huge greeting in the dugout and the man whose teammates call ‘The Machine’ even broke out a big smile.
He admitted he had been “envious” of players who had driven in 100 runs in the past, because it meant that they were helping their team on a daily basis.
“I guess I am just trying to help the team win,” LeMahieu said. “I am doing that on a pretty consistent basis and the RBI are a function of that.”
That is who LeMahieu is. Quiet and hard-working, he likes to play baseball more than talk about it. Not even in the Yankees' Opening Day lineup back in March, LeMahieu was the most important player that they put on the field this season.
He finished with career-highs in RBI (102) and home runs (26). Even though he finished second to Anderson’s .335, he finished with a .327 batting average, a .375 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage. In 602 at-bats this season, LeMahieu struck out just 90 times.
“He’s going to be the MVP conversation. He’s had over 100 RBI in the leadoff spot. Where would we be without him?” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Sunday. “He wanted to be a New York Yankee. And you can’t draw it up any better. And someone coming over here and having the kind of first year impact, between the lines and in his way, he’s had a huge impact on our clubhouse.”
LeMahieu — who, again, was not even in the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup— will likely get some votes for the American League MVP, but from all indications will finish behind Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. There is no doubt, however, that he is the Yankees’ 2019 MVP.
“I think he probably would be. There might be a couple good arguments, but it would be hard to say DJ wouldn’t be,” Boone said.
Last winter, Brian Cashman couldn’t figure out why two of his top assistants — Tim Naehring and Jim Hendry — were hounding him about signing the second baseman.
“My reaction, quite honestly at first was, ‘how’s that fit?’ He’s an everyday second baseman, a Gold Glove second baseman. We already have a second basement in GT, Gleyber Torres, we already have, you know, a third baseman in Miguel Andujar, and obviously he wasn’t hurt at that point. And then we clearly had Didi Gregorius coming back sometime in the summertime, so I didn’t understand where he fit,” the Yankees GM said.
“But they maintained, that he could play third, he could play first, he could be an everyday player and everyday asset. You know, obviously, as well second base and give us a lot of flexibility. So thankfully they pushed the idea.”
Hendry had a hunch that LeMahieu would respond well to the idea of being a super-utility infielder. A friend of LeMahieu’s college coach at LSU, he had some insight into how low-maintenance a player LeMahieu was.
Along with some in the analytics department, the scouts pushed Cashman to look at LeMahieu as more than a second baseman. They saw him as a solid hitter whose defensive versatility could help them around the infield.
“Thankfully, I was open minded to at least considering anything that comes my way and it over time made more and more sense. I stayed in touch with (LeMahieu’s agent) Joe Wolfe, and it turned out to be a massive game changer for us,” Cashman said.
LeMahieu has played 145 games this season, one of the few Yankees not to make a trip to the injured list. He has played 75 games at second base, 52 at third and 40 at first base.
“Everything that was represented by analytics proved true. Everything that was represented by pro scouting, essentially, stating the fact that, despite him being a Gold Glove second baseman and not really having any experience at first or third at the major league level, that athletically and aptitude wise, this is a player that could do,” Cashman said. “Jim Hendry, remember, was part of drafting him out of LSU when he was at the Cubs as GM. And so we really had a full dossier on DJ LeMahieu; who he was, what he was capable of and, you know, not always does that stuff line up, not always does that stuff work out.
“In this case it worked out extremely well and to our benefit and so again I thank those individuals for pushing it and pat myself on the back for hiring people smarter than me.”