There are few better times than the All-Star break to examine production of players. By this point, it is evident who is performing above expectations, who is right on track, and who is simply not working out. There are no more excuses of slumps or slow starts now. So when examining the Yankees, they are above-average offensively at catcher, first base, left field, center field, and designated hitter. In fact, the only spot the Yankees are seriously lagging at is second base, where Stephen Drew is an automatic out. So why then, is Didi Gregorius, the Yankees’ first attempt to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop, still looked at by some as a part of the problem rather than the solution? Is Gregorius really performing below expectations, and could the Yankees have really done any better last offseason?
NOTE: Sorry for the bizarre formatting near the bottom. For some reason, 3 paragraphs were merged into 1 large one. I hope this problem doesn’t lessen your enjoyment of the article.
Let’s start off with evaluating Gregorius’ on-field production at the halfway point of 2015. Gregorius is batting .242 with 4 home runs and 18 RBI. His OBP stands at a modest .295, and his SLG is an unimpressive .328. These numbers don’t scream out “All-Star” by any means. When looking at Didi’s career numbers, he is either right in line with his career averages or slightly above. With his WRC+, which looks at how productive an offensive player is with 100 being average, standing at 72, it is apparent that there is major room for improvement. At least on the surface, that is.
What if I told you that the league average shortstop is hitting .248/.298/.358 (81 wRC+) this season? That really isn’t a dominant offensive player, actually a true 8-hole hitter. Gregorius has climbed to almost those exact numbers for the season as a whole, even with his awful April. That April saw Didi hit .206 and post an OPS of .499, a truly horrifying number. Since then, Gregorius’ monthly’s are much more in line with the average shortstop. Over June and July, Didi is hitting over .270 with plus power numbers. Gregorius will never be anything special with the bat, but he is at the very worst a league-average shortstop.
But the Yankees didn’t sign up for a league-average shortstop, did they? Actually, that may be all New York needs. The fact that the Yankees are at least league-average at 8 of 9 positions with 5 being well above indicates that the Yankees can still win ballgames with Didi at short. A similar conundrum is happening in Washington. The Nationals thought they had an elite shortstop in Ian Desmond, but he has been arguably the worst shortstop in the game so far this season. The Nats are still comfortably in playoff position due to their depth around him. Same goes for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. Heck, even the San Francisco Giants won 3 Championships in 5 years while developing Brandon Crawford at short. He didn’t become a league average offensive player until the third triumph. These teams don’t need a Derek Jeter-stlye offense at short; the game has changed. A quality shortstop in 2015 can hold his own with the bat, flash leather in the field, and be a piece to build around. The Yankees have needs 1 and 3 covered, but now let’s examine Gregorius’ work in the field so far.
Gregorius is a solid fielder at worst. He has made 9 errors, but they are mostly of the young player making a mental mistake variety. Those will go away with time, and even have as 2015 has progressed. His Range Factor at short is above-average, as is his Ultimate Zone Rating. His Defensive Runs Saved has not been the most kind to him, but he stands at only -1, which is practically league-average (0). Finally, if we take a look at the Inside Edge Fielding stats, which classify plays into routine, likely, even, unlikely, and remote, we can really see how much of an improvement Gregorius is over the last 3 years of Derek Jeter, which is when Inside Edge began tracking these stats. Jeter in 2014 made 97% of routine plays, almost even to Gregorius’ 96%. Likely plays also have the two even, at around 67% each. But when even a little bit of challenge was added in, Jeter crumbled. Derek couldn’t make even 17% of even plays last year; the average shortstop is around 40%-60%. Gregorius, on the other hand, makes 50%. Didi also makes 20% of unlikely plays, a figure above league-average, while the 40-year-old Jeter made just 6%. Now this is not a comparison of 40-year-old Jeter to Gregorius. Any shortstop in today’s game can dominate Jeter in those numbers. Instead, the point to be made is that now the Yankees have themselves a secret weapon who is making above-average plays instead of a big name who is simply too old. There was no chance of the Yankees sitting Jeter last year and I understand that, but how Didi blows Derek away is representative of a couple of more wins in my opinion.
Concluding, the Yankees don’t have anything “special” or “All-Star” in Didi Gregorius. But they do have a winner, a gamer, and a player just scratching the surface of his potential. Even if he never progresses any more with the bat, he is at worst average in that regard. His fielding is superlative, and it seems like the Yankees got the best available shortstop in the 2015 offseason. So lay off the hate, people.