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Rockies’ DJ LeMahieu is heating up

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The Rockies second baseman had a July reminiscent of his stellar 2016

Last year DJ LeMahieu was one of the best hitters in all of baseball, and he has the batting title to prove it. He hit .348/.416/.495 and was 28 percent above average offensively (128 wRC+, 128 OPS+). This year, he has been below average (92 wRC+, 93 OPS+). When LeMahieu was named to the National League All-Star team he was hitting .302/.360/.381; his inclusion was a bit controversial. Since that time he has been hitting .378/.439/.500. What’s going on with DJ LeMahieu?

First, it would help to consider what’s changed from last year. Overall, his approach at the plate hasn’t changed much, as his swing rates and contact rates are mostly in line with his career norms. The results at the plate have changed. After career best ground ball, hard hit, and home run per fly ball rates in 2016, LeMahieu has gotten back towards his career rates. His BABIP has regressed back to his previous rates as well, and he’s stopped earning extra base hits.

DJ LeMahieu Career Batted Ball Profile

Year PA BB% K% GB% HR/FB% Hard% BABIP ISO
Year PA BB% K% GB% HR/FB% Hard% BABIP ISO
2016 635 10.4% 12.6% 50.6% 10.2% 35.2% .388 .147
2017 447 8.3% 11.9% 55.3% 6.3% 30.9% .354 .088
Career 2983 7.3% 15.4% 54.5% 6.4% 29.2% .352 .098
As of August 2, 2017 FanGraphs

In short, DJ is hitting more balls on the ground and is earning fewer extra bases as a result; he is who we thought he was.

If you break his season down by month, however, some interesting trends start to emerge. Through May, DJ was one of the worst hitters on the team, hitting just .281/.355/.362 with a 76 wRC+; not what you expect from a returning batting champion. In June, the hits started to fall in and his BABIP resembled his 2016 output. In July, his walk rate rose and he knocked a few more extra base hits and hit the ball harder than he had all season.

DJ LeMahieu 2017 Batted Ball

Month PA BB% K% GB% HR/FB% Hard% BABIP ISO
Month PA BB% K% GB% HR/FB% Hard% BABIP ISO
April 109 11.9% 12.8% 59.3% 6.3% 28.4% .300 .105
May 126 6.3% 14.3% 47.9% 5.9% 27.6% .344 .061
June 114 4.4% 12.3% 60.6% 5.9% 29.5% .387 .074
July/Aug 98 11.2% 7.1% 53.8% 7.1% 39.2% .385 .122
FanGraphs

It’s worth noting that, due to the All-Star Break, the July/August sample is the lowest of DJ’s monthly splits so far. But it’s surely not a coincidence that he has posted a .443 OBP in the same month that Nolan Arenado drove in a league best 30 runs (LeMahieu has scored 23 runs since July 1; surely a good amount of those came from Arenado base hits).

His overall numbers this season bear a striking resemblance to the 2014-2015 vintage, though over his last month of games he’s looked an awful lot like the 2016 batting champion. The question remains: which is the real DJ LeMahieu?

Not to be a Negative Nellie, but odds are the current hot streak is just that: a hot streak. If you break down the last two seasons by month for LeMahieu you’ll see incredible highs (like last August’s 201 wRC+) and disappointing lows (like this May’s 74 wRC+). There is a sabermetric truism that once you display a skill you own it, so it’s reasonable to conclude that he will have extended stretches where he resembles 2016 LeMahieu. But considering we have a sample size of almost 3000 plate appearances, we know that’s not who he’ll be overall.

That’s certainly not to discount what DJ has done this month. While we were all sitting around waiting for Trevor Story and Carlos González to heat up, DJ LeMahieu stepped up. His performance has helped fuel an offense that has scored more than six runs per game in July and there’s a distinct possibility that he keeps it up for a while. But the Rockies would be better served finding a way to improve production in right field than counting on their slap hitting second baseman to become a batting champion over the rest of the season.