Examining Didi Gregorius’ difficult season

Swing and a miss (MLB.tv)

This has been a trying season for Didi Gregorius.

The 29-year-old shortstop had to rehab from Tommy John surgery and missed the first two months of the season, only to come back and struggle at the plate. Gregorius has taken a step back offensively and he’s upfront about his issues.

“I’ve sucked, if you want the honest truth,” Gregorius told NJ.com earlier this week. “I’m not where I want to be.”

The problem for Didi has been getting on base while his power remains a potent threat.

2018: .268/.335/.494 (122 wRC+) with 27 home runs over 134 games
2019: .240/.279/.445 (85 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 80 games

Though Gregorius’ home run total is down, he’s averaging slightly more homers per plate appearance than a season ago. In fact, he’s hitting the ball harder than ever before with an above-average exit velocity and improved barrel rate as his hard-hit percentage remains mostly static.

Gregorius isn’t hitting the ball on the ground more, nor is there something visually evident in his approach. But his plate discipline has gone in the wrong direction after steady improvement over the last few years.

2016201720182019
BB%3.24.48.45.0
K%13.712.312.115.4

At the plate, he’s swinging more often in the zone and chasing as well, yet he’s making less contact. Pitchers have started to go out of the zone more against him, likely trying to exploit a new hole in his game.

Pitchers have thrown Gregorius fewer fastballs after he feasted upon them a year ago and have attacked him with more offspeed and breaking pitches. Offspeed pitches, specifically cutters and changeups, have been a problem for him in a way that hasn’t plagued him since his first year with the Yankees or his time with the D-backs.

Didi has cut down on his strikeouts and has drawn more walks in the second half, yet his on-base percentage has gone down with a .229 batting average since the All-Star break. Therefore, you can’t blame it all on a lack of Spring Training.

The ostensibly reliable shortstop now mired in a two-month slump after a hot July that featured eight hits over two nights in Minnesota. After a two-homer night in Los Angeles towards the end of August, he went on an 0-for-16 skid. He’s hitting just .194/.256/.388 in September.

This slump doesn’t jeopardize Gregorius’ spot on the postseason roster — He’s still one of the Yankees’ two best defensive infielders (DJ LeMahieu being the other) and has the platoon advantage often — but it does put him at risk of riding the bench. If it weren’t for a concurrent slump from Gio Urshela, his starting spot might be in more peril.

The timing of Gregorius’ down year also comes just before he hits free agency in the fall. If he’d hit free agency with a repeat of his 2018, he presumably could have commanded a five-year commitment and over $70 million. Now, with free agency what it is, he might be more in the range of LeMahieu’s two-year, $24 million offer.

The Yankees have Gleyber Torres, an inferior fielder but far superior hitter to Gregorius, to potentially slide over to shortstop. They also have other ways to distribute their money under the luxury tax. Whether this off-year makes him more likely to return or not as it reduces his potential payday, it’s hard to tell, but it’s a troubling sign after tremendous progress in his Yankees tenure previously.

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9 Comments

  1. Wire Fan

    Posted this a while ago but the recent history on SS’s in their early 30’s is not good.

    Over the past 5 years only 7 SS’s age 32 and older have gotten enough AB’s to qualify for a batting title. Of those seven,
    five had sub 1 WAR seasons and the other two had 2 WAR seasons. Age 32 would be a potential third year of Didi’s next contract. I thought it was a foregone conclusion they would re-sign him coming into the season, but now it seems more iffy.

    While Torres would be a small step down defensively at SS, DJ full time at 2nd would be a massive upgrade over Torres at 2nd (possibly 15+ runs defensively). With the 26 man roster they could carry Andujar and a middle IF backup (cheap FA or Tyler Wade/Thairo Estrada)

  2. dasit

    zero concern about didi in the playoffs, he’ll rise to the moment as usual
    that being said, if he bats third boone should be fired

    • ΣδυG 。・ 』

      Pretty sure he doesn’t do the lineup rather they (Yanks executives like Cashman) give it to him.

  3. Didi has provided some of the biggest hits in recent playoff memory, it’d be hard to see him go. Like with Dellin, I think the decreased earning potential increases the likelihood of a reunion. If you can retain him for the DJLM deal, that would be hard for me to pass up. If they use the money for Cole I understand, but I think the chances of that are like 5%.

    • Your approach is logical, I just think the Yanks and their analytics team is going to suggest playing Torres at short, backed up by Wade and/or Thairo, is a big boost in whatever metrics they use to analyze such things.

      It allows them to play DJLM at his natural position as well, or 3rd if Urshela and Andujar aren’t up to snuff.

      I’m not sure even a big post season from Didi moves the needle much in his favor – this regime doesn’t pay for past performance – even Stanton was viewed as a bargain and allowed them to unload Castro.

  4. I will confidently predict that some Yankees will hit well in the postseason and others will not. I will tell you who they are after the postseason concludes.

    • If you would only tell me today’s lottery number winners tomorrow…I would definitely sign up for your Patreon page!

  5. Didi is an amazing human being, but I was ready for him to go this past offseason.

    One thing in Didi’s favor is he seems to get a lot of big hits. Look at his clutch stats and triple slash in high and medium leverage situations on BR. They are very good to excellent.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if Didi has some huge knocks this October as he has had in the past.

    Since payroll is managed more closely under Hal, I’d rather they let Didi go and use that money towards Cole. Wouldn’t be surprised if Hal does only the former.

  6. The Original Drew

    If Gio was playing better I would say that Didi should probably go to the bench in the playoffs.

    But knowing Aaron Boone, even if Gio was hitting like he was for most of the season, Didi would still be in the lineup and batting in a premium lineup spot just because he bats lefty.

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