LeMahieu consistently attacking lefties' offerings
The Rockies second baseman studies pitches to work to his advantage
PITTSBURGH -- Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu insists he hasn't fundamentally changed how he hits, even if the ball has been flying over the fence at a pace he has never seen.
LeMahieu entered Monday night's game against the Pirates with five home runs in his first 17 games. Last year, he finished with eight homers and didn't have his fifth (and sixth) until Aug. 26 -- his 122nd game.
Overall, LeMahieu is hitting .309 with a .382 on-base percentage, which isn't far from his final numbers last season of .310 and .374. There's just an added element of danger so far, with a current .603 slugging percentage against last year's final .409.
LeMahieu said there is no secret beyond studying his spray charts against pitches he was receiving, and applying the lessons.
"In November, I look at the numbers and look at video, get a plan of attack and know where I can improve," LeMahieu said. "That's not new this year. I do that every year. But what I was looking at is translating to the games. That's a good feeling.
"It's more counts -- pitches I was driving, pitches I was not driving, where I was hitting certain pitches. But I do that [study] every year. It's nothing new. It's just translated better."
Turns out it's not where he's hitting the ball, but what he's hitting, from whom and in what count. Here's what Statcast™ reveals:
• Four of his five home runs and half of his 10 extra-base hits have come off left-handers. Last year, he had just 15 extra-base hits all season off lefties.
• The numbers show LeMahieu is taking advantage of lefties' fastballs. Last year, seven of the 15 extra-base hits were on fastballs. This year, all five of his extra-base hits are off lefties -- the four homers and a double -- were on fastballs.
• When even or ahead in the count, LeMahieu is hunting fastballs against lefty pitchers. All have been when he has been even or ahead in the count. Last year, 12 of the 15 extra-base hits off lefties came when ahead or even in the count.
• Righties aren't free to chuck fastballs. All but three of his 21 total hits going into Monday were on fastballs.
LeMahieu is, interestingly, a case study in a way the Rockies can improve over last year.
Last season, according to Statcast™, the Rockies as a team hit the lowest percentage of balls to the pull side of any team in the Majors -- 36.2 percent. That was even though their .356 pull-side batting average was sixth in the Majors and second in the National League only to the Nationals, and their .692 pull-side slugging percentage was fourth in the Majors and second in the NL to the Mets.
LeMahieu was the well-documented king of opposite-way contact, and some of the numbers justified the Rockies for going the other way. The team led the Majors by going the other way 27.6 percent of the time, and the .349 average on oppo contact ranked second in the Majors.
But what if LeMahieu and the other oppo boppers can take advantage of pitches to pull? Well, four of LeMahieu's five homers have been to the pull side. But LeMahieu said that while he is pulling some balls hard, it's not a part of his thought process.
"I've said it many times before, if I go up there looking to pull pitches, I become a worse hitter," he said.
Whatever the numbers are saying to LeMahieu, he has internalized them to the point that he can describe his strategy succinctly, which helps him keep a clear head.
"I'm looking to drive pitches," LeMahieu said. "That's a better thought process."