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.
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.