Last week, Purple Row's own Ryan Freemyer took a look at DJ LeMahieu's breakout season. There's some good stuff in there, and I'd like to build on it just a little bit today. Specifically, we want to see just what's going into that .374 BABIP he's posted so far in 2015.
Let's start off with the points Ryan's already hammered home as it concerns LeMahieu at the plate.
1) LeMahieu is walking more. The upward trend in plate discipline is apparent everywhere you look.
In walk percentage:
In pitches per plate appearance:
And in BB/K ratio (In other words, he's not increasing his strikeout rate despite getting deeper into counts and taking more walks):
2) LeMahieu almost never makes soft contact. Ryan noted the following on that point:
Another point seemingly in LeMahieu's favor is that when he has swung, he almost never makes soft contact. Not only is his 9.5 percent soft contact rate a significant reduction from the 14.5 percent mark he put up in 2014, it's also good for fourth best out of 155 qualified hitters this season!
This is extremely important. The more obvious way to have a high BABIP score is to hit the ball hard really often, but there's also something to be said for a guy who strikes out less than the league average and avoids hitting the ball softly over 90 percent of the time. While he may not send screaming line drives around the ballpark, very rarely does he put something in play that's an automatic out. He's going to make the fielders work for it.
Along these lines, LeMahieu's "Infield Fly Ball Percentage (Popup rate)" is an incredibly low 1.4 percent. Once again, LeMahieu puts the ball in play, and rarely gives the opponent a free out when he does.
3) LeMahieu uses the entire field. This is extremely important when connected with the second point. In a baseball word where shifts are taking away more and more hits every year, LeMahieu's developed an approach at the plate that's immune to losing handfuls of hits to defensive alignments.
Here's his 2015 spray chart from Fangraphs:
This combined with avoiding making soft contact over 90 percent of the time is a perfect marriage. If LeMahieu was a pull hitter for instance, the defense would be able to convert a much larger percentage of LeMahieu's balls in play into outs. With that spray chart? Good luck.
Medium hit balls, those somewhat forgettable swings that generate something between a line drive and an easy out that LeMahieu seems to produce at least twice a game, become very dangerous for opponents when you don't know where they're going. If anything, LeMahieu's actually more likely to use the opposite field.
All of these things are good evidence as to why LeMahieu's been able to maintain a career .342 BABIP over 1,788 plate appearances. That's a higher number, but when you put the ball in play often, avoid soft contact, and use every inch of the ballpark, it's the perfect recipe for a high BABIP.
But what if LeMahieu wasn't using every inch of the ballpark until 2015? He's always been a foul line to foul line hitter, but there's evidence that this season, he's exploring new ground, and it might just be shooting his BABIP that much higher.
4) LeMahieu's average fly ball distance has increased in 2015.
2013: 269 feet
2014: 276 feet
2015: 291 feet
Throughout his career, many of LeMahieu's critics have noted that a guy who's 6' 4" and 215 pounds (basically Tulo's weight but an inch taller) should be able to hit for more power, even though it doesn't always work like that. Well, he's not hitting for more power in terms of extra base hits and home runs in 2015, but he is hitting more fly balls to the vicinity of the warning track.
This leaves opponents with a difficult decision. They can either play deeper and allow more singles to fall in (raising Lemahieu's BABIP even higher), or they can play shallow like they were doing almost every at bat in 2013 and 2014 to cut off more singles while now risking balls going over their head for extra bases.
Most fielders, having gone back and looked at some of the games have elected to play deeper, leaving more room for DJ's singles to fall in, but a few have tempted fate and paid for it. Here's just a couple:
This first one was against the Braves on July 10th. Atlanta decided to leave left center field wide open, and LeMahieu hit a fly ball to the warning track that landed just to the left of the state farm sign (noted by the red "x" in the picture). The ball stayed in the air for a long time and would have been an out most of the time, but because the Braves were playing a defense more appropriate for 2014 DJ LeMahieu when his average fly ball distance was 15 feet shorter, neither Jonny Gomes nor Cameron Mayvon were able to get to it from where they started in this shot.
Here's the end of another play, much later in the shot as the ball is coming down. This is Curtis Granderson of the Mets on August 12th attempting to recover from playing too shallow on a guy who now consistently drives the ball to right field. The ball lands on the warning track, but with where Granderson started, he can't get to it and it goes for a double.
Most of the time this doesn't happen. Most teams have adjusted to LeMahieu's extra fly ball distance and moved their fielders back, but it's hard not to at least consider that the extra room we see in front of the outfielders now when LeMahieu is at the plate is helping fuel his career high .374 BABIP. I don't think it will stay that high, but with this new found fly ball distance, I think .350 might be possible, and that could be enough to make him a 90 wRC+ guy going forward, which makes him a valuable asset combined with his defense, position, and base running.
Lots of links today.
First up, Patrick Saunders has the scoop on how Jorge De La Rosa tossed six shutout innings yesterday and was key to the team's 5-0 victory yesterday in Pittsburgh. Saunders also notes that De La Rosa has been better on the road this year, which wouldn't be a surprise for most pitchers, but before 2015 De La Rosa actually pitched better at Coors field, so this is a notable change.
Saunders also has some thoughts from the manager on what Ben Paulsen's season has meant to this team. He also adds an update on Morneau, who hit a home run in Double-A on Saturday night.
Saunders also has a third story up worth reading. It's just a quick take on what Tulo's done in a Blue Jays uniform so far (great fielding, disappointing hitting), but he also predicts that Toronto will do something special down the stretch.
Harding has some interesting details on the profession of Friedrich's season, and the different approaches he's taken as he's gotten more innings on the year.
The good news? Vin Scully is coming back for 2016. The bad news? He's retiring after that. I'm be watching quite a few Dodger games next season to make sure I get to hear the man's voice that's become the soundtrack of summer one last time.
When Vin Scully started broadcasting ...
Speaking of the Dodgers, they got no-hit for the second time in nine days last night. This time by Jake Arrieta. Oh, but the Dodgers, they don't think Arrieta actually pitched a no-hitter.
There's plenty of interesting fallout from this game, not the least of which is a story that's been building for most of this month now, and that's the fact that the Cubs, who are very likely to end up in that one game Wild Card playoff could be lethal there with Arrieta. Since the start of August, Arrieta's ERA is just 0.43. The Pirates, who would be the Cubs' opponent in that game if the season ended right now, don't have an arm that can match up with that. Then again, this is the Cubs and there's 100 years worth of evidence that says they're going to find a way to screw this up.
Blue Jays fans have come up with a fun nickname for the four major bats in their lineup after the Tulo trade, and oddly, it originates from south of the Canadian border. They're good neighbors though, so we'll share.
If you're looking for a full recap of all three games in Pittsburgh this weekend, this is the place to be.