DJ LeMahieu didn’t directly blame his subpar season on pitchers using foreign substances.
He, likewise, didn’t credit his recent surge for pitchers getting ready for MLB’s looming rule that will prohibit them from using such substances and force them to wean themselves off the “sticky stuff.”
Yet, the Yankees’ infielder didn’t deny there was a correlation, either. In fact, LeMahieu indicated this has been a season unlike any other for him.
“I’ve seen some pitches this year I’ve never seen in my whole career,” he said Thursday over Zoom, before the Yankees went for the sweep over the Blue Jays in Buffalo.
Starting Monday, any player caught using foreign substances to manipulate the ball will be ejected and given a 10-game paid suspension. Pitchers will be checked frequently in-game by umpires.
Asked to further describe what has been so new about what he has seen this year, LeMahieu said the movement at the velocity of fastballs and off-speed pitches has been unique.
“For some reason this year it seemed to really jump, the stuff guys are throwing out there at us,” he said.
After leading the sport with a .364 batting average last year and posting a through-the-roof OPS of 1.011, LeMahieu inked a six-year, $90 million deal last offseason to remain in The Bronx. That player, who had been so good in his first two years with the Yankees, hadn’t returned until recently.
Even with his recent hot streak — he had hit .322 with four extra-base hits in his previous seven games — LeMahieu carried an underwhelming .262/.338/.345 slash line into action Thursday night. His OPS was just .683, and he had just 13 extra-base hits. He had hit safely in 8 of 12 games this month, and had four multi-hit games in his past five contests.
“I’ve been feeling a lot better going back about a month,” LeMahieu said. “Results have been a little bit better this last week or two. I’m feeling better and I gotta keep going, just keep improving and getting better.”
The last time LeMahieu produced a sub-.700 OPS was 2014. He’s hit over .300 every season but one since that year. He had 22 extra-base hits in 50 games a year ago, nine more than he had managed this year in 13 fewer games.
He’s not alone. Offense has been down across the board this season. The Yankees, who were supposed to be such a force, have struggled to produce runs. It’s probably not a coincidence they have begun to score more in the last week — they were averaging 5.4 runs over the previous seven games, up from their season average of 3.8 — just like it’s likely not merely happenstance LeMahieu is hitting better of late.
“I’m kind of glad everyone’s on the same level now,” he said. “Collectively everyone can agree that [the use of foreign substances were] over the top, and I don’t know if the new balls had a factor in that as well, where all of a sudden you’re combining both of them. I don’t know.”
Aaron Judge said he’s seen a slight difference already, in terms of fastballs feeling a “little lighter” and not having quite the same force behind them. But he believes the real change won’t be seen until the rules are enforced starting Monday.
LeMahieu said he isn’t sure how different games will be, if it will make it easier to hit and more difficult for pitchers to put up zeroes. But now he believes he can more accurately evaluate himself.
“It was hard to answer that question for the first three months of the year, let’s put it that way,” LeMahieu said.
— Additional reporting by Dan Martin.