When the Yankees acquired Didi Gregorius prior to the 2015 season in a three-team trade involving the Tigers and Diamondbacks that sent righty Shane Greene to Detroit, the Bombers added the Dutch shortstop in the hopes that he could take over the everyday shortstop job following Derek Jeter’s retirement. At the time of the trade, Gregorius had a reputation for being sure-handed defensively but remained a work in progress at the plate with just a .243 career batting average. But now, in his third season as the everyday shortstop, Sir Didi, as he has been affectionately nicknamed by Yankee fans, has developed into the hitter that the Yankees envisioned and is in the midst of a breakout campaign.
Gregorius began the season on the disabled list after injuring his right shoulder during the World Baseball Classic. Since being activated in late April, he has hit well enough to become a fixture in the middle of the Yankees’ vaunted lineup. Despite missing nearly one month of action, Gregorius ranks seventh in hits among Major League shortstops and fifth in batting average, home runs, and RBI. Gregorius has also amassed the fifth highest bWARP at his position (3.70). Sir Didi has ingratiated himself into the class of elite shortstops in Major League Baseball including Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager. One question that remains is how his 2017 season compares to that of the best Yankee shortstops from years past.
1999 Derek Jeter
The Yankee Captain was transcendent in what was likely the best season of his career in 1999. Jeter set career highs in nearly every major offensive statistic, including Home Runs (24), RBI (102), batting average (.349) and runs scored (134). In just his age 25 season, Derek Jeter finished 6th in MVP voting and was elected to his second All-Star team. Jeter, like Gregorius, began his career alongside other young, outstanding shortstops like Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada. While both Yankee shortstops were highly touted as prospects during their time in the minor leagues, Jeter certainly debuted with more fanfare after being the 6th overall pick in the 1992 MLB Draft and the 4th ranked prospect by Baseball America in 1995.
It is impossible to replace a player that collected 3,465 hits, 14 All-Star selections, five World Series Championships and a career WARP of 59.1. Gregorius however, has thrived under the pressure of being The Captain’s immediate successor.
1962 Tom Tresh
The Rookie of the Year and World Series Champion played his best season as the Yankees’ primary shortstop in 1962. With incumbent shortstop Tony Kubek serving in the military at the beginning of the 1962 season, Tresh was called upon as his replacement. Much like Gregorius, Tresh did not disappoint in his substitute role as he produced 20 home runs and 93 RBI during the regular season and added a game-winning home run in Game Five of that year’s World Series. Tresh hit the ground running with an impressive debut campaign and would play for the Yankees for seven more seasons.
In comparison to Gregorius who has played very well defensively at shortstop this year, Tresh’s horrid -13.9 Fielding Runs Above Average provides evidence as to why he was pushed to the outfield following Kubek’s return. Tresh did damage with the bat in ‘62, enough to make up for a poor defensive season and still accumulate a WARP of 4.4.
1950 Phil Rizzuto
Known for his slick-fielding abilities, The Scooter surprised Yankee fans with a remarkable season at the plate en route to a Most Valuable Player award in 1950. Rizzuto finished second in baseball in runs scored (125) and eighth in batting average (.324) as the leadoff hitter in front of fellow Hall of Famers Berra and DiMaggio. The 5’ 6’’ shortstop was a key member of eight World Series Champion teams including five straight from 1949 to 1953.
Much like Jeter and Gregorius, Rizzuto was also introduced to the league alongside a class of young, talented shortstops including Lou Boudreau and cross-town rival Pee Wee Reese. The Scooter played 13 seasons in a Yankee uniform and had his number retired in 1985.
*As of August 18, 2017
With over 40 games remaining, Gregorius’ 2017 season should compare favorably to some of the best seasons by a Yankee shortstop in franchise history. Didi is the Yankees shortstop of the present and future and it will be interesting to see if he can eventually help lead his team to a World Championship as his predecessors did.
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