Yankees' DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit Make History With League-Leading Performances
NEW YORK — A single-season milestone of this caliber is rare for any Major League team. In 2020, however, the Yankees made history with a pair of league-leading performances.
DJ LeMahieu secured the American League batting title on Sunday with yet another multi-hit game—his 19th of the season—going 2-for-3 in a 5-0 Yankees' loss to the Miami Marlins. The infielder finishes the year hitting a remarkable .364 (71-for-195).
Meanwhile, Luke Voit didn't just lead the AL in home runs, his career-high of 22 homers was the most in all of baseball.
"They’ve been the pillars in our lineup. The rocks in our lineup," Yankees' manager Aaron Boone said Sunday afternoon. "I think both guys are worthy of MVP consideration."
This season may have featured a truncated campaign, but LeMahieu and Voit are the first pair of teammates to lead the Majors in batting average and home runs since Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews of the Milwaukee Braves respectively in 1959.
The Yankees wrapped up their 60-game campaign with a 33-27 record, good for second place in the AL East. Considering New York dealt with a slew of injuries again in 2020, including those that limited sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton to less than half a season, the duo of LeMahieu and Voit was indispensable to this team's moderate success.
"We’re not getting on a plane and going to the playoffs without the performances of those two guys," Boone said.
With his .364 batting average, LeMahieu captured the second batting title of his career. The 32-year-old finished the season with 10 home runs, 27 RBI, 41 runs scored and a whopping 1.011 OPS, tops in the AL.
"I don’t think it’s really sank in yet but it’s definitely really cool," LeMahieu said. "I wish it was over 162, I wish there were fans in the stands, but it is what it is. I’m definitely proud of it."
Earlier in the season, LeMahieu had explained that focusing on the numbers and where he stood day-to-day in the batting-title race would be more of a distraction than anything else. Now that he's finished the job, he can process just how impressive a feat he was able to pull off for a second time.
"I was trying not to focus on it, just have good at-bats and I think the more it sinks in and the more I talk to people, it’ll be pretty cool," he said.
After winning a National League batting title back in 2016 with the Colorado Rockies, LeMahieu is now just the second player in MLB history, and the first since Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty in 1902, to win a batting title in both leagues.
LeMahieu is the fourth player in Yankees franchise history to lead the Majors in batting average in a single season joining an illustrious trio: Mickey Mantle (.353 BA in 1956), Joe DiMaggio (.381 in 1939) and Lou Gehrig (.363 BA in 1934).
The last Yankee to win a batting title was Bernie Williams in 1998. After LeMahieu and Williams, only seven others have won a batting title in franchise history.
Speaking of legends that have donned pinstripes, check out the names that Voit now joins by leading the Majors in home runs.
The slugging first baseman is just the eighth Yankee to ever lead the Majors in the home run department. Alex Rodriguez (2007), Roger Maris (1961), Mantle (1956), DiMaggio (1937) and Wally Pipp (1916) have all led baseball in homers once while Lou Gehrig (1931, '34, '36)) and Babe Ruth (1920-21, '24, '26-29) have multiple home run crowns to their name.
"I’ve been trying to transform myself into a better power hitter," Voit said on Saturday after hitting his 22nd and final dinger of the season. "This year was another stepping stone for me. It was fun and the goal is to keep it going in the playoffs."
Although Voit was held homerless in Sunday's regular-season finale, it's still fair to say he capped off his career year on a high note. Voit mashed eight homers in his final 16 games, pulling away from Chicago's Jose Abreu who finished second in baseball with 19.
The 29-year-old ended the season ranked fourth in the Majors in RBI (52) and sixth in slugging (.610) while finishing in the top 10 in the American League with 41 runs and a .948 OPS. His previous career-high in home runs was 21, set this past season in 510 plate appearance. This year, he hit 22 in only 234 trips to the plate.
His league-leader teammate said Voit deserves all possible praise and accolades for his performance.
"Not only did he hit a bunch of homers, but he had some huge homers for us and really carried us this year. He’s a complete hitter, he’s not just a home run hitter." LeMahieu explained. "He definitely takes big swings, but he has a great approach the other way, gets tough RBIs in situations and obviously the home runs speak for themselves so I’m really happy for him."
As for the group of Yankee legends Voit is now associated with in the history books, the first baseman called it an honor. He recalled having a life-size poster of Babe Ruth that one of his neighbors had gifted him when he was growing up.
"I've always admired the Babe," he said. "That guy hit 700 home runs. That means I’ve got to start hitting like 150 a year to catch up to him. That’s never going to happen but hopefully I can stay in that category with them."
After a hectic day across the league, the Yankees will play the Cleveland Indians on the road in the first round of the postseason. Game 1 of the Wild Card round begins on Tuesday evening.
While it remains to be seen where LeMahieu and Voit will land in the AL MVP race, one thing is for certain. If the Bombers hope to survive and advance in October, this duo's success from the regular season will need to carry into the playoffs.
"I think we have the best team in the league still. Definitely the most talented," LeMahieu said. "I know for the playoffs were going to be extremely focused and ready to go."
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