Talk about being under a microscope. Last season, the New York Yankees traded Shane Greene away as part of a three-way deal that brought Derek Jeter‘s heir apparent to New York. Didi Gregorius — who had never experienced a .300 season, nor October baseball — was expected to fill the void left by the only guy in Yankees lore to capture 3,000 hits and was nicknamed Mr. November and The Captain.
Talk about pressure.
Suddenly, it seems like Sir Didi has the knight stuff.
Gregorius came here under the most daunting circumstances. Back when I wrote for Yanks Go Yard, my weekly Bronx is Boiling feature that week fired back on fans and insiders who felt it was a silly trade. Greene was coming off a solid season and Gregorius was average at best, and no where near the player that should replace Jeter.
He didn’t need to replace Jeter. The smart person knew that Jeter’s intangibles were more irreplaceable than his 3,465 hits. Still, it was an unfair burden that Gregorius had to bare. (By the way, anyone who followed Greene’s minor league career would know that once big league hitter’s saw him a second time around he was in trouble. He had an awful season last year as a starter in Detroit and is now a pretty poor reliever for them).
The Yankees held onto to Brendan Ryan because Didi was seen as a platoon player who couldn’t hit lefties, with a career .184 average against them prior to his arrival in the Bronx. Of course for poor Didi, it didn’t help that things didn’t start well. He was slashing an ugly .238/.345/.417 by the All Star Break.
Then it all changed. Gregorius’ defense and arm were too valuable to keep off the field, especially for the light-hitting Ryan. The Yankees gave Sir Didi a chance to be an everyday player as opposed to a platoon for the first time in his career, and he delivered. He closed the second half of the season with a .294/.345/.417 slash line, but most importantly, posted his best average against lefties in his young career, finishing at .247.
Expectations were high for Gregorius coming into 2016 and a mid-April slow roll worried some again. He’s been on fire of late and has had an incredible June.
Sir Didi has hit safely in 10 of his last 13 games, and in two of the three hitless games, he reached base with a walk. Seven of those ten games that Didi has hit in have been multi-hit games. He has also driven in 13 runs for a team that is currently starved for a run producer.
“You’ve got to make adjustments to try to get better,” Gregorius told Mark Feinsand of the Daily News. “I made some adjustments when I’m facing lefties, try to keep my front shoulder in as long as I can so I don’t fly open. I think the second half of the season last year, that’s when I kind of figured out everything hitting-wise. It’s still working for me, so I don’t really see why I have to change it.”
How have those adjustments played out this season? He’s batting .383 against lefties — his long-time nemesis. While he will never be a walk machine, especially towards the bottom of the lineup with little protection, he has also shown improved plate discipline over the past month, drawing five walks as compared to nine strikeouts and is striking out a career low 10-percent of the time.
Gregorius — who had to deal with “replacing” Jeter — also is playing at a time that has a rebirth at shortstop. Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, even Trevor Story. Looking at those shortstops, it is tough for Sir Didi to compare, but that doesn’t diminish his value to the Yankees. The Yankees have come to realize that.
Is Gregorius the best shortstop in the league? Not even close, he’s not even the best in his own division. What Gregorius is, is a young and improving shortstop who has enough skills to hold down the position. Every day he seemingly gets better, and it is from an awareness of and improvement to past flaws in his game. That’s what is important to look at when evaluating his current hot streak.
No matter how you look at it, he sure has been worth the return on Shane Greene. It will be interesting to see what his value is come negotiations this offseason in arbitration. Until then, sit back and enjoy the coming of age of Sir Didi.