All the signs were there. We all missed them. Every single one of us. It’s only 14 games but if you look in hindsight, it’s pretty easy to figure out why DJ LeMahieu has started off as the hottest hitter on the Colorado Rockies.
On Thursday, LeMahieu joined Corey Dickerson and Todd Walker as the only players in Rockies history to record at least two doubles and two home runs in the same game. LeMahieu has now tallied four round trippers on the young season, last year he hit eight in 155 contests.
He’s raised his batting average to around .350 which is the mark the won him the 2016 NL Batting Title. The 29-year-old has raised his walk rate, on base percentage, slugging rate all while dropping his strikeout rate.
Small sample size or is there something to this?
Let’s add a qualifier, LeMahieu has already batted leadoff four times in 2018, something he had done just 30 times in his eight big leagues seasons before this one. LeMahieu is doing this because Charlie Blackmon has faced several nagging aliments.
Naturally, LeMahieu has made like his best buddy and done just as well as the history making Blackmon when leading off. Yet there is too small of a sample size to really dive into that at this point.
What we do know is that LeMahieu had a killer second half last season. In his final 75 games (from July on), he OPS’d .828 with a batting average of .320 while walking 33 times against 44 strikeouts. This was somewhat in stark contrast to his first 80 where he somewhat struggled, at least for him, OPS’ing .741 and hitting .302 while striking out nearly twice as many times as he walked.
LeMahieu struggled with balls up and in early on last season. By the end of 2018, teams were trying radical shifts to stop his bat. You can actually see how much hotter LeMahieu has gotten by looking at his hard hit percentage and rolling exit velocity.
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This can also be seen slightly in LeMahieu launch angle which has raised. In those first 80 games of 2017, hit only hit 2.95% of the pitches he saw for a launch angle of 25 degree or more. In the second half, that number jumped to 3.29%. To start 2018, that number has exploded to 4.60%.
That may not sound like much, I know but here’s some context. The on-fire lauded-for-his-launch-angle Bryce Harper has hit 4.76% of the pitches he’s seen at a launch angle of 25 degree or more to start this season. Last year Harper’s mark was 4.86%.
However it still does explain why LeMahieu’s seen an uptick in his power numbers.
He’s clearly hitting balls harder and at a steeper launch angle to start this season. Both good things. And it’s not really a fluke as seen in his numbers in 2017’s second half.
Oh yeah, he’s in a contract year too, which always gives a nice boost.
It’s easy to tout Arenado and Blackmon as the engine of the Rockies because they are but everyone forgot about LeMahieu in the process. While the first two duked it out for the NL MVP, LeMahieu steadily got better, like the two-time All-Star always has.