MLB: New York Yankees at Oakland Athletics

Didi Gregorius, now as advertised

When the Yankees acquired former top prospect Didi Gregorius in the offseason three-team deal that sent popular young starter Shane Greene to the Tigers, some writers were quick to rip the trade. The high-payroll Yankees seem desperate these days for cost-controlled talent, so why were they quick to rid themselves of a 26-year-old rookie who pitched to a 3.78 ERA and 3.76 FIP in 2014 while striking out 81 batters over just 78 2/3 innings and 14 starts? Although the Yankees didn’t have any shortstops in the pipeline to replace Derek Jeter, critics did not consider Gregorius a valid option due to his struggles at the plate with the Diamondbacks.

Throughout April, those critics felt pretty great about themselves, as Greene was magnificent with a 0.39 ERA over his first three starts. Despite a couple poor outings at the end of the month, the deal still appeared to be quite lopsided; Gregorius had a nightmarish April, batting .206/.261/.238 while also appearing to be completely lost in the field. Acclaimed as a talented defensive shortstop, he made mental miscues left and right, even if not all of them were scored as errors. So not only were the Yankees down a good, healthy starter (an absence made particularly glaring by Masahiro Tanaka’s DL stint), but they also had a complete nothing at shortstop. Time for Brian Cashman to hand in his resignation and leave Yankee Stadium in a gorilla suit, right?

Fortunately for the Yankees, seasons shockingly don’t end after just one month! Otherwise, Chris Shelton would be an MVP, Vernon Wells would be a 2013 All-Star, and this delightful ditty wouldn’t exist. Those last two starts in April were sadly a precursor of what was to come for Greene–since April 24th, he has had an appallingly awful 8.60 ERA and .993 OPS against in 10 starts, collapsing so badly that he was ultimately demoted to Triple-A Toledo. More importantly for the Yankees, Gregorius has played much closer to the player the Yankees thought they acquired back in December.

Since the calendar flipped from April to May, Gregorius has hit .250/.303/.379 with four homers in 43 games, a 16-homer pace over 162 that would be considered quite good for a shortstop. Further cherry-picking stats since May 15th makes him look even better: .272/.315/.437 in 111 plate appearances, Obviously, the post-April triple slash still isn’t stellar, but that’s the state of shortstops these days. Gone is the era of Jeter, NOMAH, and the Trout-like version of A-Rod. In 2000, shortstops combined to hit .264/.331/.399. So far in 2015, shortstops are hitting .247/.297/.355, a 78-point difference in OPS, and the post-April Gregorius is ahead of the curve.

One could dismiss the all-encompassing shortstop triple slash for including even non-starters in the figures, but compared to his fellow starters, Gregorius fares well. No, he’s never going to be Troy Tulowitzki or even Jhonny Peralta out there, but the .676 OPS since April would put him right in the middle of the pack of 22 qualifying starting shortstops. The careless mistakes in the field have really ceased to exist as well, and instead, fans have been seeing far more superb plays like this one:

Credit: @PSA_GIFs

Can fans trust that the post-April Didi is the real one though? It’s not like his BABIP is out of control–the .274 figure since May 1st is right in line with his career average. An ugly trend that appeared to plague Gregorius in the season’s first month was a series of too many vicious cuts that simply led to lazy fly balls. In-game analysts perceived that Gregorius was swinging too hard, acting like a power hitter when that wasn’t his game at all.

The statistics back that up, as he flew out on 21.7% of his plate appearances. Since April, he’s only flown out on 12.1% of his times up. Gregorius can pop the occasional long ball or double, but he’s at his best when he rips the ball on the ground all over the field. The aforementioned reasonable BABIP indicates that the hits haven’t been grounders simply finding holes either, as he’s been notching a number of sharp singles in front of outfielders.

Didi’s April was unfortunate, but it still must be counted with his full numbers, so his .237/.289/.333 triple slash with a shaky .239 TAv don’t seem that sharp. However, he is trending in the right direction, and the post-April Gregorius appears to be the more legitimate one. There is still plenty of time for Gregorius to shift his overall season in either direction, but Yankees fans should be encouraged by his recent results.

(Photo: Kelly L Cox-USA Today Sports)

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