LeMahieu seeks improvement through metrics

LeMahieu seeks improvement through metrics

DENVER -- Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu considers himself "anti-numbers," but he figured they were worth a longer look after he led the National League in batting at .348 last season.

It turns out LeMahieu's search for improvement in the advanced metrics yielded mixed information.

"There are certain stats out there that I feel I can improve on, but at the same time I'm not willing to sacrifice other parts of my game to even it out," LeMahieu said. "But it's been good looking over the numbers. It's helped me understand myself a little bit better."

LeMahieu, part of the Winter Caravan that toured the Denver area and ended at Coors Field on Monday, was a standout in traditional stat categories. He not only took the batting crown, but he had career highs in runs (104), hits (192), doubles (32), triples (8), home runs (11), RBIs (66), walks (66), on-base percentage (.416) and slugging percentage (.495). He also batted a career-best .303 on the road.

After a year like that, it doesn't hurt to go beneath the statistical surface.

According to Statcast™, LeMahieu hit balls hard. His adjusted average exit velocity (minimum 300 batted balls, adjusted for swinging strikeouts) was 82.6 mph. Only Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, who finished just behind LeMahieu in batting at.347, had an adjusted exit velocity of 83.7. Just behind LeMahieu was the Angels' Albert Pujols at 81.4.

The velocity helped him with balls driven the opposite way. In fact, the raised fencing at Coors Field in right-center and right field cost LeMahieu three home runs -- tied for most on the team with Nolan Arenado, who finished with 42 homers, and Trevor Story, who hit 30.

"Strength, experience and just knowing my swing and myself a little bit better helped," LeMahieu said. "It's something I wanted to improve last year and want to continue to improve this year."

Another stat, however, is up for interpretation. LeMahieu had a 50.6 percent ground-ball rate, the 18th-highest in the Majors among hitters who qualified for the batting title, according to Statcast™. Among the top 30 in batting average, just five had higher ground-ball percentages -- Jean Segura (53.1 percent ground balls/.324 batting average), Wilson Ramos (54.3/.307), Ryan Braun (55.7/.305), Yunel Escobar (58.1/.304) and Christian Yelich (56.5/.298).

A high rate of ground balls could lead to a lower batting average if those balls go to fielders. It could also lead to double plays, although LeMahieu used the bunt -- several times in squeeze situations -- to stay out of double plays and achieve other desirable results.

LeMahieu left last season with the nagging feeling that he could have driven in more runs, and solid contact that lifts the ball more consistently could help. But LeMahieu isn't sure that's the right approach.

"Do I try to hit the ball in the air more, or do I keep doing what I'm doing and keep getting on base?" he said. "I'm going to stick to who I am. I'm not going to change. But it's good to know that stuff, and it's interesting."

LeMahieu's success came with him batting second --- behind leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon, who had his best season -- and ahead of Carlos Gonzalez (25 homers, 100 RBIs) and Arenado (Majors-high 133 RBIs), so it wasn't as if not driving in runs cost the Rockies. He'll be a part of a potent lineup under new manager Bud Black in 2017.

"Getting on base for me and our lineup, it's best for both," he said.

LeMahieu's title came with criticism. With Murphy battling a glute injury and playing sporadically, former Rockies manager Walt Weiss gave LeMahieu just two plate appearances in the 160th game and held him out of the final two games to preserve his lead.

But LeMahieu said there is nothing less than authentic about his title.

"It wasn't the most storybook ending, but it worked out and I feel like I deserved it in the end," he said. "For a week after that, I'm hearing all the national experts talking about it. I was saying, 'I don't even think they knew who I was before that day.' So it doesn't really matter to me that much."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.