Transactions happen on a near daily occurrence over the course of any baseball season, whether it’s 162 games in six months or 60 games in a little over two months. They also occur on a fairly daily basis in the dead of winter waiting for the exhibition and then the regular season to start.
Some are splashy like trading one of the top prospects for established talent. Others are done quietly with a short press release.
Quietly is how you can describe the Yankees landing Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu in transactions nearly six months apart and the payoff for those under the radar moves is to think of where the Yankees might be without the infield duo’s mix of power and consistent hitting.
There’s a decent chance the Yankees are not boarding a flight for Cleveland with the hope to win a series and earn a trip to the American League Championship Series. Which is why the Yankees holding duo titlists in major categories such as batting average and homers is a significant achievement in any type of a season.
“They’ve been the rocks in our lineup,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I think both guys are worthy of MVP consideration.”
Voit ended the season by hitting 22 homers, three more than Jose Abreu. LeMahieu easily won the batting title by finishing at .364, which represents the highest mark in a career that has produced five seasons with a .300 average.
It is an extremely rare feat, something only achieved four times and not done since 1959 when Hall of Famers Hank Aaron (.355) and Eddie Matthews (46 homers) did it for the Milwaukee Braves.
LeMahieu winning a batting title can hardly be unexpected. He did it in 2016 by winning a one-point race with former Washington National Daniel Murphy and this time won by a wider 42-point margin over defending champion Tim Anderson.
All of this was made possible by a pair of quiet transactions.
On July 28, 2018, the Yankees just finished a lengthy Saturday doubleheader with the Kansas City Royals and it was announced Voit was obtained for Chasen Shreve (last seen sporting a beard with the Mets) and Giovanny Gallegos.
At the time of the trade, Voit had seen limited action with the Cardinals by batting .182 while splitting time at Double-A and Triple-A and producing a respectable .300. The need was not necessarily clear cut with Greg Bird at first base and seemingly healthy.
Bird never could get going with his bat and eventually Voit took over, hitting 14 homers in 39 games, which is similar to the Gary Sanchez pace from 2016. He followed it up by hitting 21 homers but injuries sidetracked things and Voit was not on the postseason roster.
Still, it appeared the Yankees had unlocked something in Voit and this year they saw the benefit. He played 56 of the 60 games and when he homered the Yankees were 12-7. Voit also produced 52 RBIs and when he drove in a run, the Yankees went 18-9.
And his hottest stretch came at a time when the Yankees needed it the most. The Yankees slipped to 21-21 following a 2-1 loss to Toronto in Buffalo on Sept. 8. They followed it up with 10 straight wins, a stretch in which Voit hit six homers and drove in 19 runs.
Voit’s home run title was the 18th instance of a Yankee winning the home run total and his 162-game pace of 59 would put him up there with Babe Ruth in 1927 and Roger Maris in 1961.
“I’ve always admired the Babe,” Voit said Saturday when he hit his final homer of the season.. “It’s just awesome company. That guy hit 700 home runs (714 to be exact). That means I got to start hitting like 150 a year to catch up to him. So that’s never going to happen.”
LeMahieu was slightly less of a quiet transaction on Jan.14, 2019, the same offseason where Manny Machado would sign with San Diego and Bryce Harper would land with Philadelphia. It was made two days before the Mets infamously signed Jed Lowrie for two years, $20 million only to get seven at-bats and a cavalcade of injuries that can qualify for one of their worst signings of all-time if not the worst.
LeMahieu batted .327 in 145 games when the Yankees set records for injured list stints last year. This year, he seemingly was behind when he missed summer camp recovering from COVID-19 but he got a hit in his first five games to get off to a .455 start.
Other than after the July 25 game in Washington, LeMahieu ended each day over .300. He was over .400 after 16 games and held a .405 average as late as Aug. 30, though there was times he did not qualify due to missing 10 games with a sprained left thumb.
LeMahieu wound up getting 80 multi-hit games in his first two seasons with the Yankees, who showcased he was worth more than the $12 million he made last season and the $4.4 million he made on a pro-rated basis in this unique season.
“I want to stay here; I’ve said that a few times,” LeMahieu said. “But you never know how it goes. I thought I was going to stay in Colorado and I didn’t.”
LeMahieu’s .364 average is the highest by a batting champion since Joe Mauer hit .365 in 2009. His 42-point victory is the widest margin in any AL batting race since 1980 when George Brett won the title by hitting .390, 42 points higher than Cecil Cooper.
“It’s pretty cool, I don’t think it’s really sank in yet but it’s really cool,” LeMahieu said. “I wish it were over 162 games and there were fans in the stands but it is what it is. I’m definitely proud of it.”
It’s unknown whether possessing the home run and batting champion translates into a World Series title but without the consistentcy of Voit and LeMahieu, the Yankees are not even getting on the plane to Cleveland.
“We’re not getting on a plane and going to the playoffs without the performances of those two guys,” Boone said.
Source: Forbes – Business