DJ LeMahieu’s regression is epitome of Yankees’ struggles

MINNEAPOLIS — As DJ LeMahieu tried to adjust to the pop-up hit by Christian Arroyo during the top of the eighth in The Bronx on Sunday night, with Chris Gittens looking on from first and Clint Frazier late to get to the play in short right field, it was perhaps a perfect synopsis of the Yankees season so far.

LeMahieu was unable to make the play, Arroyo wound up on second and scored a go-ahead run later in the inning in a game the Yankees lost to their archrivals in 10 innings.

As rough as 2021 has been on many of his teammates — and on offenses throughout the majors — few have seen their production drop off like LeMahieu.

The team’s most consistent producer over the previous two seasons has been among their most significant disappointments.

He’s bounced around the infield, from his usual second base spot, to first — where Luke Voit has been out with multiple injuries and the Yankees have been unable to find a suitable replacement — to third, when he’s filled in for Gio Urshela.

Moving around the infield, though, wasn’t an issue for LeMahieu in his first two years in The Bronx and he insists it’s not now, either.

DJ LeMahieu
DJ LeMahieu slams his helmet in frustration.
Charles Wenzelberg/Gist Vile

To explain the league-wide offensive struggles, some scouts have pointed to the new ball being used by MLB this season — or the foreign substances pitchers have allegedly been using more than ever, which the league intends to begin cracking down on in the coming weeks.

That may prove to be good news for LeMahieu, whose numbers have been down all year and have gotten even worse lately.

After going 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts in Sunday’s loss, LeMahieu is now 22-for-101 in his last 26 games. In that stretch, he has just one extra-base hit, five RBIs and 11 walks to go along with 22 strikeouts and an OPS of .517.

Not surprisingly, Aaron Boone tried to look on the bright side of LeMahieu’s performance following Sunday’s game.

“There’s been times, especially over the last 10 days or two weeks, where he’s hit into some tough luck,’’ Boone said. “And I feel like he’s really close with his flat swing and getting some good swings off.”

That’s fine for a week of slumping, maybe two. But LeMahieu has been off nearly all season.

The ball theory makes some sense.

LeMahieu’s ground-ball rate is around his career average (55.1 percent in ’21, 53.5 percent for his career, according to Fangraphs) and his fly-ball rate is actually a bit higher than it typically is (23.6 to 22.9).

DJ LeMahieu
Charles Wenzelberg/Gist Vile

What’s noticeably different is his homer-to-fly ball ratio, which was 19.3 percent in his first season as a Yankee in 2019 and 27 percent a year ago. It’s dropped to 7.1 percent this season.

He’s also striking out at nearly twice the rate as in 2020 (17.9 percent to 9.7).

It all comes in the first season of a six-year, $90 million deal after the Yankees made re-signing LeMahieu the top priority of the offseason.

For now, LeMahieu and his .335 on-base percentage remain in the leadoff spot.

Moving him down in the lineup might sound logical, but only Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres have a better number.

The Yankees’ issues at the plate have proven to be more problematic than bringing up a minor leaguer to provide a spark — like Gittens, overmatched against the Red Sox in his first MLB action — or shaking up the batting order.

They simply need reliable threats to live up to their reputations.

A visit to the Twins might help, since the Yankees tend to feast on the AL Central, but even that hasn’t always held form this season — like when they got swept in Detroit just over a week ago.

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