How can any Yankees fan not love Didi Gregorius right now? He’s been the biggest bright spot in an otherwise uneven start for the Yankees coming off a breakout season a year ago. He’s got an infectious smile, an outgoing personality and is always a team player — never even giving himself praise even when he knocks in eight runs in a game.
After a rough start, he’s replaced Derek Jeter the best anyone could have ever hoped for. He’s been nothing short of an absolute force this year with a crazy .367/.513/.900 triple slash line with three home runs, 10 RBI and five doubles. Eight of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases.
This is coming off a year where he hit .287/.318/.478 with 25 home runs, 87 RBI, a .335 wOBA and a 107 wRC+. How has he made such a jump offensively in both average and power from where he was earlier in his career? Remember, he was mostly known for his glove coming up. I really don’t know, honestly.
Baseball is really a simple game. The pitcher is trying to create soft contact or no contact at all, while the hitter is trying to create hard contact. The more hard contact you make, the more likely you’re going to do damage. The softer your contact is, the more likely you are to make an out. That’s why things like exit velocity, launch angle and barrels are so big now. It may seem complicated, but it really isn’t.
The crazy thing you probably never realized about Gregorius last year is that he didn’t create a lot of hard contact. The 2017 league average for line drive rate was 20.3 percent. Gregorius was a tick below that at an even 20 percent. Worse than that, his hard-hit rate of 23.4 percent was 116th out of 119th qualified hitters.
Even his home runs were not hit all that hard. His average home run distance last year was 377 feet, which was dead last among 242 players with 10 or more homers last year. His 98.9 mph exit velocity on home runs ranked fourth from last.
One would easily think that based off this he was a product of Yankee Stadium, but that was not the case at all. Gregorius had a 133 wRC+ and a .371 wOBA away from home last year compared to a 81 wRC+ and a .298 wOBA at home. He hit 13 home runs on the road and 12 at home. This just makes this all even more confusing.
One thing you can tell is that Gregorius is pulling the ball a ton more than he used to. The last three years his pull rate has been 38.5, 27.6 and 40.3 percent. His fly ball rates have also gone up from 34.1 percent to 40.3 and 43.8 percent. None of his 25 home runs went to center or left field last year. Is he just selling out for power? Then why is his batting average going up?
His batting average on balls in play was .287 last year after posting .290 in 2016 and .297 in 2015, yet his batting average last year went up over 20 points from 2015. Usually a hitters’ BABIP will be much higher than his batting average, but not for Gregorius. That defies logic.
All of this is combined with the fact that Didi’s approach at that plate is questionable at best. His walk rate was a minuscule 4.4 percent last year and he swing at 41.8 percent of pitches outside the zone. For reference, Brett Gardner — the most patient hitter on the Yankees — only swings at 22.3 percent of pitches outside the zone in is career.
So far in 2018 Didi is walking way more. His eight walks this year are more than he had in any month last year and it’s only April 9. However, is his approach different? He’s still swinging at 40 percent of pitches outside the zone. He’s actually seeing fewer pitches per at-bat (3.44) than last year (3.63). What’s probably happening is that pitchers are just being a lot more careful with him because he is on fire right now.
None of this is really meant on a knock on Gregorius. You can’t take away from what he’s done. He’s such a fun player to watch and seeing his development in front of our eyes has been amazing. I’m just a logic-based person, so when things don’t add up it really piques my interest. These things just make you wonder about the sustainability and I’ll be really interested in seeing where his career goes from here.