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DJ LeMahieu stuck it to the haters one more time

DJ LeMahieu: Greatest second baseman in franchise history. Say it with me now.

You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 6, DJ LeMahieu (3.0 rWAR)

As this website’s foremost champion of DJ LeMahieu (see here, here, and here), it’s been immensely gratifying to watch him become such a beloved player when he was once viewed as an inferior option at second base to Josh Rutledge. It will also be very difficult for me when he most likely departs for this off-season. Should he go elsewhere, the man once referred to as “somebody named DJ LeMahieu” by a prominent local sportswriter will leave Denver as the 8th most valuable Rockie in history according to Baseball-Reference and easily the best second baseman the Rockies have ever had. During his tenure he hit .299, won a batting title, played in two All-Star Games and won three Gold Gloves on his way to 17.7 rWAR.

But this article is not supposed to be a career retrospective. It’s supposed to be about DJ’s 2018, which was rather strange as far as DJ LeMahieu seasons go.

For starters, he missed 34 games — just one fewer than he had missed the previous three seasons combined. When he was in the lineup, DJ was also a different type of hitter than he’d been in the past; hitting for more power with a higher launch angle while getting on base less often.

He hit only .276, which was his second-lowest average as a member of the Rockies, and his .321 on-base percentage was down more than 50 points from last year and almost 100 points from 2016. He made up for this decline in contact and walks somewhat by hitting the ball harder than he ever has. Once known almost exclusively as a singles hitter, DJ hit a career high 15 home runs and tied his career high with 32 doubles despite missing over a month. And several of those extra-base hits had huge implications for the season.

His signature moment came on June 28th in San Francisco. The Rockies were at their lowest point; sitting four games under .500 and having just dropped two heartbreaking one-run games to the Giants. The bullpen had just blown another lead and the Rockies came to bat in the top of the ninth trailing 8-7. With one out and a runner on first, DJ crushed a 3-2 pitch halfway up the bleachers in left to give the Rockies the lead. There are only so many inflection points in a season, and DJ’s homer was a massive one. Before he hit it, the Rockies were 38-42. After he hit it, they went 53-30. A disappointing season became one of the most successful in franchise history, and it started with that home run.

In August he broke a 3-3 tie in the tenth inning of an insane come-from-behind win in Atlanta with a solo home run to center. Two weeks later in Anaheim I saw him hit what should have been a game winning grand slam with the Rockies trailing by two runs in the eighth. (We won’t discuss what happened after that.)

His final home run of the season was arguably just as big as his San Francisco blast. With the Rockies down 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th on September 12th, DJ walked off the D-backs in a crucial division game and gave me my only good broadcast call out of all my attempts to call a game this season.

He also played a huge role in the Rockies win over the Cubs in the Wild Card Game. Facing his former team, DJ had his hardest hit of the entire season in the top of the first inning. His double should have scored Charlie Blackmon, but it got stuck in the ivy and Blackmon had to go back to third. Still, it set up the Rockies’ only run before the 13th inning.

In addition to his uneven but clutch offensive season, DJ played his best defense in years, if not ever, en route to winning his second consecutive Gold Glove and his third with the Rockies.

It will be strange not seeing DJ in a Rockies uniform. If he somehow comes back to Colorado, I will be overjoyed. Every home run he hit, every diving stop he made, and every line drive he sent the other way over the years was a treat for me.

Sometimes there’s no single reason why you latch on to a player. I always liked DJ for his defense, but I think I really started to root for him in 2014 when I saw how many people were saying that the Rockies needed to move on from him and that he wasn’t the team’s future at second base. I even saw a lot of this sentiment in 2015. For him to be the every day starter and make massive contributions to two playoff teams on offense as well as defense was awesome.

Regardless where he suits up next season, I’ll be rooting for him to keep sticking it to the non-believers. And there will be many who say his offense is just a product of Coors Field and that he’s not worth whatever contract he gets. I hope he proves them wrong.