Bronx, NY: DJ LeMahieu was an under-the-radar signing by the Yankees, expected to be a utility man and depth player. Bryce Harper was the off-season’s prized free agent, signing a $330 million dollar deal with the Phillies. LeMahieu had an MVP caliber season, while Harper was booed by the home crowd on opening day and down the stretch as the team’s final playoff push fell short. One man is a hero, the other a scapegoat. But was LeMahieu’s 2019 season really that much better than Harper’s?
LeMahieu told his agent he wanted to play for the Yankees and signed a two year, $24 million dollar deal in January. It wasn’t clear where he would fit in the stacked Yankees’ infield, especially after Didi Gregorious returned from injury around mid-season. He was also another right-handed hitter in a righty dominated lineup. A red flag was that he was a much better hitter in Colorado’s thin air than on the road. On opening day, he wasn’t even in the Bombers’ lineup. Boone insisted he would get plenty of ABs but it was hard to figure out how.
Bryce Harper was expected to be courted by many teams but it took him until late February, a few weeks into spring training, to get his massive payday. The Phillies also brought in other big name free agents Juan Segura, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and JT Realmuto. Harper was seen as the key addition to a team expected to contend for the division or at least a wildcard.
Miguel Andujar went down early, and infielders Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, Edwin Encarnacion, Didi Gregorious, and Greg Bird all spent time on the IL. LeMahieu was the ultimate roll of duct tape, plugging holes all over the infield. Outfielders Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Mike Tauchman, and Cameron Maybin also spent time on the IL as the Yankees broke the record for the most players on the injured list in a season. But LeMahieu kept showing up. He played good defense at three positions and he kept on hitting.
Harper was not bad, but didn’t really get hot until August. Short Matt called him an unmitigated Philly Phlop just yesterday. He had a poor July, hitting 3 HRs and driving in only 13. His best month was August, when he hit 11 dingers and drove in 25, but the Phillies Phloundered. Sorry. Apart from a few hot streaks, he was not the dominant force Phillies’ fans were expecting and the team finished in the middle of the pack in runs scored. The bigger problem was the bullpen implosion. The team finished with the 13th most runs allowed in the league.
A quick look at the stats shows DJ had the all around better year, but Harper had the edge in power numbers.
DJ: 197 hits, 109 runs, BA .327, 26 HRs, 102 RBI
Bryce: 149 hits, 98 runs, BA .260, 35 HRs, and 114 RBI
A closer look shows that although Harper trailed LeMahieu by 67 points in batting average, he walked 99 times to DJ’s 46. That resulted in nearly identical On Base Percentages, .375 to .372. If you add up their hits and walks, Harper’s total actually exceeded LeMahieu’s, 248 to 243. And when you consider Harper had more doubles, HRs and RBI, LeMahieu’s advantage becomes a lot less pronounced. Their slugging percentages and OPS (slugging plus OBP) were also very close. And Harper stole 15 out of 18 bases while LeMahieu stole 5 of 7.
I don’t think it can be understated how important DJ’s versatility and consistency were to the Yankees. I half-jokingly wondered if they were going to stick him in left field when the infield got healthy and they were still banged up in the outfield. That versatility allowed players like Gio Urshela to shine. In spite of the injuries, the Yankees were still able to lead the league in runs and fall one dinger short of the all-time record (set this year by the Twins, the Yankees’ first round opponent). LeMahieu is a big reason the offense was able to keep humming through all the turmoil.
But that aside, the two players had pretty similar offensive years. LeMahieu spent a lot of time hitting leadoff, limiting his RBI opportunities a bit. But Harper didn’t have much protection in the lineup. Rhys Hoskins emerged, but McCutchen was lost for the season early on and they only had two other players (Hoskins and Realmuto) with more than 71 RBI. This lack of protection surely led to teams pitching around Harper and the high walk total.
I’ll be the last guy to say that DJ doesn’t deserve MVP consideration. He does. But Harper was weighed down by the high expectations that come with a massive contract and a mediocre supporting cast. The team imploded largely due to the bullpen. Harper had a pretty standard Bryce Harper season. An unmitigated flop? Hardly. It was at least a little mitigated.
It doesn’t really make sense that the MVP has to come from a winning team. If all teams redrafted tomorrow, I reckon Mike Trout would the first position player taken. He’s not less valuable because the rest of his team stinks. Baseball is a true team game and one guy can only do so much.
That’s it for me. The Yankees limped into the playoffs, but hopefully they can get it rolling. Come back for the
DJ LeMahieu Bryce Harper Mark Bellanger of MTM, Angry Ward. Follow us on Twitter at @BenWhit8, @MeetTheMatts, @Matt_McCarthy00, Instagram @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts.