By Louis Addeo-Weiss
When the New York Yankees signed second basemen DJ LeMahieu to a two-year/$24M contract following the 2018 season, the club had an idea of how the three-time Gold Glove award winner would be utilized.
With the formality of being without shortstop Didi Gregorius for the first two months of the season (Gregorius did not debut until June 7th), the expectation was for the team to utilize LeMahieu as their primary second basemen, with second-year player Gleyber Torres moving back to his natural shortstop for the time being, and Miguel Andujar manning third base.
Unfortunately though, Andujar, who posted 130 OPS+ and set the rookie record for doubles in 2018, en route to a second-place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, an honor eventually captured by P/DH Shohei Ohtani, would go down in early April with a torn labrum in his throwing arm, costing him the entire 2019 season.
For a club already decimated with injuries to their pitching staff, with ace Luis Severino already missing extensive time due to inflammation in his right rotator cuff and eventually, a grade 2 lat strain, and reliever Dellin Betances, who has yet to pitch this season due to a shoulder impingement, the loss of their starting third baseman would seem a cause for concern, but enter Gio Urshela.
A pleasant surprise for the Yankees given the absence of Andujar, Urshela has amassed 1.9 WAR, this according to baseball-reference, and posted a 130 OPS+. Prior to the 2019 season, Urshela owned a career OPS+ of 57, and never had a season where surpassed 70.
But the real hero for the Yankees has been LeMahieu.
A career .298 hitter entering the 2019 season, LeMahieu’s start to his career with the Colorado Rockies was highlighted by those aforementioned gold gloves, two all-star appearances, and the NL Batting Title in 2016, when he hit a career best .348.
As impressive as these numbers seem on the surface, a deeper look at the numbers tell a different story.
LeMahieu’s career OPS+ of 92 with Colorado gives the indicator that, despite his bat-to-ball proficiency (15.2% K-rate), the all-star second basemen actually grades as a below league average offensive player. Prior to 2019, LeMahieu’s only season with an OPS+ above league average (100) was his batting title season when he posted a 128 mark.
His OPS during this time was a mere .756, while slugging just .406. For some context, Albert Pujols, arguably one of the greatest pure hitters the sport has ever seen, has an OPS of .750 since the start of 2013, the beginning of a period in which many cite as a decline in his performance.
However, his first season with the Yankees has been anything but subpar, already setting new career highs in several offensive categories, such as home runs (17), runs batted in (75), and a 141 OPS+, as well as currently leading the AL with a .336 average, this as of August 4th.
Given how great LeMahieu has been for New York, mid-June gave rise to the debate of who the American League MVP was thus far, with the two primary candidates being the likes of LeMahieu and Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout.
And regardless of how impressive his performance has been, especially playing in the market that is New York, this persisting notion that he is the American League’s most valuable player is absurd, especially considering how much better Trout has been.
Using WAR (Wins Above Replacement), LeMahieu has been worth 4.5 WAR, which currently ranks seventh in AL.
Offensive Win %, which assesses the percentage of games a team may win with 9 of this respective player on the field, likes LeMahieu quite a bit in 2019, with his .689 mark again ranking seventh in the league.
His 141 OPS+ ranks sixth in the AL, and as we know, the BBWA (Baseball Writers Association), who vote on these end-of-season awards, place a premium on offensive production when considering an honor as prestigious as the league’s most valuable player.
Trout, on the other hand, has seemingly continued to show why he is the consensus best player in baseball.
A look at Mike Trout’s baseball-reference page is the baseball equivalent to reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; we’re simply witnessing history, as Trout has put himself on the path to becoming one of the sports’ all-time greats.
On pace for another 10 WAR season, a means by which many consider an all-time great performance of sport, Trout has already amassed 7 WAR.
The Angels center fielder is tied with crosstown superstar and Los Angeles Dodgers OF/1B Cody Bellinger with 36 home runs, while leading the junior circuit in RBI (87), on-base percentage (.439, also the best mark in baseball), slugging percentage (.660), OPS (1.099), and OPS+ (187), another one of which leads the sport as a whole.
A further look at the AL Batting Leaders page on baseball-reference will only further justify the idea of how foolish it is to even pit LeMahieu next to Trout for the league’s highest individual honor.
Trout’s 207 times on base are the most in the American League, with LeMahieu not even cracking the top 10.
Referring back to the metric Offensive Win %, we again see another category in which Trout holds a clear lead over LeMahieu and the rest of the American League, with Trout’s .818 mark easily the best in the sport. The second ranked player on this list, Minnesota Twins DH Nelson Cruz, is almost 75 percentage points lower than Trout at .745, respectively.
All that needs to be drawn from these numbers is that, while LeMahieu is arguably in the midst of the best season of his career, he is miles behind what Trout has done in 2019, and the idea that he even stands a chance to win the 2019 AL MVP is ludicrous.