Yankees' catcher Gary Sanchez, himself among the American League's best hitters this season, recently dubbed teammate DJ LeMahieu as "The Machine."
Sanchez's assessment of his new teammate was spot on. LeMahieu has been nothing short of excellent for New York, as well as one of baseball's best overall players this season.
When GM Brian Cashman signed the former Rockies infielder to a two-year, $24 million deal in January, it was a relatively quiet move. A good number of fans washed over the news, disappointed that it wasn't the addition of Manny Machado instead. Many, however, knew that LeMahieu was a great hitter in his time with Colorado, consistently hitting for average and routinely showcasing elite defense.
Some were concerned that his production would suffer away from Coors Field. As we all know by now, it hasn't. He's reminded the sport of his status as one of the games best pure hitters.
The fact is, he's been more valuable to the Yankees than Machado would have been. So far, LeMahieu actually leads Machado in a number of important offensive categories including batting average, doubles, RBI, OBP, OPS and slugging. Of course, LeMahieu is not Machado, who is considered a top-five player in the sport. LeMahieu has certainly made the case as one of the games most underrated players, though.
Additionally, he's been the best clutch hitter in baseball this year, and it isn't particularly close.
Among qualified hitters, his .491 average with runners in scoring position is baseball's best. The next best are Miguel Cabrera (.460) and Nolan Arenado (.410), followed by Domingo Santana (.383). He's come through with the bases loaded, too, delivering in four of six chances (tied for 4th in AL). His .508 OBP with RISP is tied for the top mark in baseball along with Cabrera and Christian Yelich.
But, that's just part of what has made him so good this year. If you look closely, you'll see that he's been the most valuable of any offseason infield acquisition by a wide margin.
Including LeMahieu, 26 total infielders were signed to major league deals this past offseason. Specifically, 10 second basemen, six shortstops, seven third basemen and three first basemen.
Of the second basemen group with a minimum of 125 plate appearances, LeMahieu is the leader in PA (246), average (.323) and RBI (40). He's also tied for the second-most doubles (14), along with Jonathan Schoop and Mike Moustakas. His .371 OBP is a close second only to Tommy LaStella (.373). LeMahieu's 32 strikeouts are the third lowest among second basemen, but he's not far off from the lowest rate among the position. For comparison, Ian Kinsler has struckout 31 times in 185 plate appearances, while LeMahieu's 32 have come in 246 chances.
His numbers compared to newly signed third basemen are even better. He leads the group in PA, average, OBP and is tied for most doubles. He's second in RBI only to Eduardo Escobar, who has 48 RBI in 274 plate appearances. LeMahieu's 32 strikeouts are essentially the lowest among the bunch, while Wilmer Flores has been punched out 14 times in 118 fewer plate appearances.
Finally, LeMahieu has been better than every shortstop signed this offseason in most categories. That's a group that includes Machado, Tim Beckham and Freddy Galvis. The other guys (Jordy Mercer, Troy Tulowitzki, Jung Ho Kang) each have fewer than 100 plate appearances. LeMahieu leads the bunch in doubles, average, OBP and RBI.
In a larger sense, his 2.4 WAR is the top mark among all offseason infield signees and the best of the entire Yankees' roster.
In the field, LeMahieu has been a versatile option for manager Aaron Boone, seeing action at third, second and first base. At second base, his .994 fielding percentage is tied for third-best in the majors, along with Tampa Bay Rays' Brandon Lowe. He's also committed just one error in 349 innings at the position.
Take all of this and combine it with the fact that his contract is extremely team-friendly ($12 million per year), and you have a good case for LeMahieu as the steal of the offseason. It's rare when teams are able to add a bat and defensive presence like his on such a cheap deal, and the Yankees took advantage of a down free agent market.
Even though Didi Gregorius is returning, Boone will have to make room for LeMahieu's bat on a regular basis.
Without it, there's a good chance they aren't in the spot they are today-first place.