DJ LeMahieu is changing – is it a good thing?

The Yankees slugger needs a big 2024 - his 2023 adjustments may be how.

DJ LeMahieu is not the same player he once was. Gone are the days of his .416 OBP in 2016, or a 1.011 OPS, as in 2020, or even the consistent ~.300 BA from his earlier years.

Since LeMahieu signed his 6 year, $90 million deal with the Yankees, he has posted a 101 OPS+ and 6.3 fWAR in 411 games, down from his 146 OPS+ and 8.2 fWAR in just 195 games through his first 2 years in pinstripes. LeMahieu went from 8th in MLB in fWAR in 2019-2020 to 96th in 2021-2023.

LeMahieu was not expected to continue the elite production of 2019 and 2020, yet his immediate decline in 2021 to a 97 OPS+, down from 178 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, was a surprise to many.

While a couple of injuries in late 2021-2022 could have contributed to his lackluster performance, LeMahieu’s 2023 season continued this downturn of performance, with no trips to the IL to blame. This decline, however, was not in the ways you might think.


DJ’s Strange 2023


2023 saw LeMahieu begin the season quite poorly, with a .643 OPS and a 76 OPS+ in the first half of the year. In the second half, however, DJ posted a .809 OPS and a 121 OPS+, which culminated in a full-season slash line of .243/.327/.390 and a 96 OPS+, down from 110 the year prior.

In addition, LeMahieu posted a career-low in batting average and a career-high in strikeout rate.

For most hitters, this would suggest a similar decline in the rest of their stats. Instead, LeMahieu had his highest slugging percentage since 2020, and his highest home run total and barrel rate since his 2019 debut with the Yankees, during which he posted a 136 OPS+ and finished 4th in MVP voting.

The numbers LeMahieu put up in these categories were far from the best in the league, but the quick change in his stat line tendencies showed a big adjustment in the 35-year-old’s approach at the plate.

These adjustments paid off best in August, where his OPS jumped to .898 with a .506 slugging percentage. This was the highest slugging percentage LeMahieu has posted in a single month since the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

None of LeMahieu’s biggest “problems” went away during this stretch as well. His strikeout rate was at 22.8%, and while his batting average improved to .291, it was still lower than his better months in the past.

Because of this, LeMahieu was able to contribute greatly as the year progressed.

LeMahieu, being in the higher 90th percentile in Runs Added down the stretch of the season and finishing around the 80th percentile despite a mediocre September/October, showed he was able to contribute to the team in a huge way once he adjusted to a new approach.


What to Expect in LeMahieu’s Future


To continue his August contributions in the future, LeMahieu will have to make some adjustments to his game.

Despite the drastic increase in strikeouts, LeMahieu posted well above-average chase and whiff rates, in line with his past numbers. His average exit velocity and HardHit% were only slightly better than his past as well. To focus on this power-centric approach, a further increase in these exit velocity numbers would be very beneficial for both his batted ball luck and his home run numbers to continue climbing.

In addition, LeMahieu had a 3.8-degree average launch angle, and while this is an increase from 2022, he was able to perform his best when his launch angle was around six degrees, such as in his 2016 batting title season and 2019 debut with the Yankees.

For fantasy in 2024, be sure to keep an eye out for these numbers early in the season. Further improvements in these areas would likely indicate LeMahieu’s focus on a power-centric approach and could lead to him putting up some of his best numbers in a few years.

DJ and Buster Posey



Buster Posey and LeMahieu were quite similar hitters. While Posey’s offensive prime was longer than LeMahieu’s and more impactful, both saw a quick decline in their approach’s effectiveness as their career progressed.

In 2019, Buster played his penultimate season in the major leagues, posting a career-worst .688 OPS in his age-32 season. After a 2020 opt-out, Posey entered 2021 with a new approach, in what would end up being his final MLB season.

Buster would post his highest ISO since 2012, with a career-worst, outside of 17 PA’s in 2009, 19.2% strikeout rate in 2021. In addition, Buster posted his highest HardHit% since 2016, and his highest SweetSpot% and Barrel% since tracking began in 2015.

While LeMahieu did not have the prolonged peak that Posey had, their similar approaches throughout their prime could indicate LeMahieu’s potential ability to make a big adjustment over the end of his career.

There is a chance LeMahieu has a similar adjustment year that Posey had in 2019 before achieving success. I would, however, bet on the opposite. LeMahieu’s solid finish to the year could indicate some adjustments had already been implemented in his game, suggesting he could be more prepared for 2024.


2024 Projections


Steamer projects LeMahieu having a .257/.341/.390 slashline, along with a 18.9% strikeout rate, 10.7% walk rate, and 2.2 fWAR in 2024. While these numbers are marginal improvements from 2023, I believe his adjustments could lead to better, which would be massively important to the Yankees season.

As we have seen in the past few years, LeMahieu’s contact-effective approach has struggled to produce, and with age, it could continue declining without the late-season changes of 2023 sticking.

While LeMahieu’s strikeout rate improving would be a good thing, seeing an increase in his hard-hit rate and launch angle would be most important to see how his power progresses. Things could easily go the other way, as well, if the Yankees decide to focus on restoring his contact numbers rather than prioritizing his power development.

To be clear, a change in LeMahieu’s hitting philosophy to focus on the power aspect of his game would not suggest he would become significantly better. An adjustment period could take place, but even with power becoming a focus, his OPS+, as well as overall offensive contributions, will likely not reach the peak of his career.

I still believe focusing on his power will be beneficial. Through his fly ball tendencies, which match up great with Yankee Stadium, as well as his ability to read defenses and hit hard liners throughout his career, DJ could very well see more success by elevating hard-hit balls more often while sacrificing his weaker contact.

Either way, DJ LeMahieu will continue to change in 2024. The better LeMahieu has done, the better the Yankees have, so all Yankee fans alike will be hoping for the best. As a Yankee fan, I certainly hope LeMahieu sustains his positive changes in 2023, and I hope for the best for his 2024 and beyond!


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