When the Yankees signed longtime Colorado Rockies infielder DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24-million contract in January, it was fair to wonder which hitter they were getting.
Was it the guy who hit .317 with a .793 OPS at Coors Field last season? Or the one who hit .229 with a .698 OPS in road games?
So far, the Yankees have gotten the Coors Field version of LeMahieu. After Saturday’ game, the 30-year-old was hitting .309 with a .790 OPS. LeMahieu leads the Yankees in hits with 21.
Yankee Stadium is a good hitter’s park, but it can’t match the thin air and spacious outfield of Coors Field.
“It’s a good place to hit,” LeMahieu said of his former home. “I don’t know if it affected me one way or another. I’m pretty much the same hitter no matter where I’m at.”
LeMahieu has reversed his splits in the early going as a Yankee, batting .267 in the Bronx and .391 on the road.
“Just off to a good start, I guess,” he said. “But it’s a long season. If I was kind of struggling a little bit, I’d be saying the same thing — it’s early. But I’m glad I’m off to a good start, at least.”
Manager Aaron Boone said that when the Yankees dug into the numbers, they found that hitters who leave Coors Field “don’t just become the road player. That’s time and time again, really. There’s no question there’s obviously a bump you get from playing at Coors, but all the things we look at … hopefully give you an accurate picture of what a person is. We knew we were acquiring a really talented hitter.”
The “Coors Field effect” of boosting a player’s offense is well known. Less known is that hitting on the road as a member of the Rockies may actually depress a player’s offense and make the player seem worse than he is. There are theories, but no proof, as to why this is.
MLB.com’s Mike Petriello wrote about this after the Yankees signed LeMahieu. He pointed out that over the last 10 seasons, the Rockies scored the most runs in baseball at home but were dead last in runs scored on the road.
There’s no way a team can be both the best and worst at something. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, which is what the Yankees are counting on with LeMahieu based on his skill set.
“He has the ability to hit,” Boone said. “I feel like sometimes we don’t talk about that tool. We talk about a guy’s throwing arm or his power or his speed … The hit tool is a skill. Obviously, you can work on it and continue to get better at it, but it’s a DNA thing, too. Guys that are really talented at the hit tool are unique to some degree, and he certainly has that.”
One of the reasons the Yankees signed LeMahieu was to give them a contact hitter in a lineup that was supposed to be full of home run (and strikeout) threats. LeMahieu wasn’t in the Opening Day lineup, but with all the injuries the Yankees have suffered, he’s now a regular at second or third base.
“He’s a really good hitter,” Boone said. “Obviously, a guy that uses the entire field. The ability to make really good contact. He doesn’t really chase. He controls the strike zone really well. He’s been a guy throughout his career that knows where the barrel of his bat is and has the ability to put it on the ball. That kind of plays anywhere.”
DJ’s home cooking
DJ LeMahieu’s home and road batting average and OPS from 2012-18, when he played his home games at Coors Field:
Year Home BA/OPS Road BA/OPS
2012 .297/.738 .297/.746
2013 .311/.768 .245/.567
2014 .316/.780 .216/.536
2015 .321/.796 .281/.694
2016 .391/1.064 .303/.747
2017 .327/.813 .294/.753
2018 .317/.793 .229/.698
Totals .330/.835 .264/.673