Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.
No. 6, DJ LeMahieu (2.9 rWAR)
DJ LeMahieu had a career year in 2016. After the season many wondered what he would do for an encore. It was said that he couldn’t possibly replicate his batting title-winning, .911 OPS-ing performance.
Well, he didn’t.
But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a great season—his second best as a pro by almost every metric.
DJ slashed .310/.374/.409, which is not .348/.416/.495, but those are still solid numbers for your second baseman. He had 8 home runs, 28 doubles and 64 runs-batted-in, all of which would have been career highs if not for last season.
His wRC+ and OPS+ were 94, but because of positional adjustments he had 2.1 offensive WAR from Baseball-Reference. Perhaps the biggest downside to DJ’s 2017 was that he hit into a career-high 24 double plays, which frustrated fans and sparked debate as to Bud Black’s lineup ordering. The ground ball-hitting LeMahieu hit second all year while the powerful Charlie Blackmon frequently came up with the bases empty in the leadoff spot. Despite these gripes, DJ had another good season at the plate coming off his outstanding 2016.
And then there’s his defense. Though still a plus defender in 2015 and 2016, LeMahieu’s numbers weren’t as good as they had been in 2013 or 2014. He reversed that trend in 2017, posting 8 Defensive Runs Saved, according to Fielding Bible (in both 2015 and 2016 he had 3 DRS). Baseball-Reference gave him 1.2 defensive WAR, which was good for the third-best total of his career.
His defense was good enough to earn him his second career Gold Glove award. If you think that’s cool, you’ll love the fact that he was selected to his second All-Star game by his peers. His inclusion was somewhat controversial, with some of the baseball media intelligentsia lamenting him as nothing short of the weakest all-star of modern times. I say that’s bunk. DJ LeMahieu is everything you need a second baseman to be. He gets on base, he has occasional power, and he plays great defense. In the midst of the fly ball revolution, he more often than not hits the ball to the opposite field.
There are many who think that the Rockies should sell high on DJ, but many of those same people were saying that after the 2015 season—secure in their belief that he had hit his ceiling. Now he’s posted two consecutive seasons better than that.
In four seasons as an everyday starter, LeMahieu has won two Gold Glove awards, appeared in two All-Star games, and won a batting title while establishing himself as the best second baseman in franchise history. I’m not sure anyone, including yours truly, saw that coming.
LeMahieu figures to be a major key to the Rockies’ success in 2018. He’s 29 and still in the prime of his career. But he’s entering his final year as an arbitration eligible player. It will be the Rockies’ last window of exclusive negotiation rights with DJ and, if they agree to a regular one-year arbitration deal, he’ll be a free agent after 2018 for the first time in his career.