Pinstripe Preview: Didi Gregorius
Spring training is now fully underway and with that several key position battles are underway as well. One position that is not up for grabs however is the shortstop position which, barring injury, will be manned by Didi Gregorius yet again this year. Acquired by Brian Cashman in a three-way deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers in the winter of 2014, Didi was given the unenviable task of replacing Derek Jeter, a task which he seemed to struggle with at first. Altogether Didi’s first year with the team wasn’t terrible given the circumstances but with a year under his belt and some job security to ease his nerves Gregorius took a step forward in 2016 and showed that even with all their talented prospects looming in the minors, the Yankees may very well have another shortstop that could stick around for a while.
|Photo Credit: Butch Dill | USA TODAY Sports|
When he first arrived from Arizona the Yankees did not quite know what they had in Gregorius. He was talented prospect who had fallen out of favor and suffered from inconsistent playing time. Playing time has not been an issue the last two seasons in New York with Gregorius playing in 155 games in 2015 and 153 in 2016. He made strides from 2015 to 2016 in just about every major hitting category putting up a batting line of .276/.304/.447 compared to a .265/.318/.370 from 2015 per Baseball Reference. Although there was a slight dip in the on base percentage there was a nice jump in batting average and a pretty notable jump in slugging percentage. Didi hit for a higher average in 2016 and even got his average up to an even .300 in July. He also hit more home runs in his second full season in New York, taking aim at that short right field porch and knocking 20 home runs compared to just nine in 2015.
While he was maturing as a hitter, Didi was out at shortstop every night displaying some impressive tools. Gregorius has far superior range than his predecessor (not a high bar I know) and a very strong arm to go with it. He put up a similar amount of errors from 2015 to 2016 with 13 and 15 respectively, an average of about one every eleven games which isn’t that bad at all. The defensive stats did not bear it out this season, grading Didi a -2.9 UZR which compares an event on the field to data on past similar events to measure a fielder but by the eye test Didi was very good in the field in 2016. Even though he did not grade favorably, Gregorius has used his combination of athleticism, coordination and good hands to help the Yankees defense and make some highlight plays in the field.
Coming off a season in which he noticeably improved, Didi Gregorius will look to take yet another leap this season. After seeing his batting average jump over ten points from 2015 to 2016 it is not out of the question to hope for another jump this season. As I mentioned previously, he did touch .300 this past season and even rode in the .280s and .290s for a while. As a 26 year old entering just his third full season as a starter he may have another level in him that he could still go to. I wouldn’t expect him to hit much more than the 20 home runs he hit this past season but anything in that 15 to 20 home run range is something the team will gladly take. There are not too many 20 home run shortstops in the majors these days so that is definitely a notable accomplishment for Didi.
Defensively I would like to see him lower his error total which was manageable the last two seasons but could still be improved upon. Didi has many tools, none more impressive than his rifle of an arm and very good range. If he can improve his ability to make the routine plays and couple that with his knack for making impressive highlight plays we could be looking at a future Gold Glove winner at the position.
Overall I would consider Didi’s 2016 a success. He took steps forward in important parts of his game and showed that he could still have more to come. With some key veterans departing and a lot of youth coming up, the club would definitely benefit from a young veteran like Didi taking another leap on the field and seizing a leadership role. If he continues his upward trend Didi will be right in the middle of it all in 2017 flashing a lightning fast glove and a million-dollar smile to go with it.
Article by: Matt GrazianoFollow @mattgraz930