Didi Gregorius: A Shortstop on the Rise

Players who suit up in pinstripes don’t normally avoid the spotlight. However, Didi Gregorius has managed to become the most underrated shortstop in the league despite being a member of the New York Yankees.

That statement might be surprising for some folks, especially since the New York media has a tendency to magnify everything they cover, but the news that Gregorius is having “one heck of a year” has been slow in circulating throughout the league. Perhaps it has something to do with the lackluster performance from the rest of the team.

This is disappointing because Gregorius has made huge strides in his development as a big league player ever since the team acquired him in the 2014-2015 offseason.

The league may not be catching on just yet, but Gregorius’ teammates certainly understand how important he has been to the club this year.

“He’s our most exciting player,” CC Sabathia said. “He does everything all around for us. He showed up again today. He makes every play.”

Feel the Burn

There aren’t too many hitters hotter than Didi these days. The shortstop has crushed the opposition with a triple slash line of .333/.365/.567 while posting a spectacular 146 wRC+ since the start of June. During this span, Gregorius has clubbed seven of his eleven home runs and produced 23 RBIs and 22 runs scored.

July 2, 2016 – Source: Denis Poroy/Getty Images North America

Gregorius’ hot streak has prompted Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, to move his shortstop from the bottom of the batting order to as high as fifth.

Overall, Gregorius has produced a first half AVG/OBP/SLG triple slash line of .295/.325/.466 good for a .791 OPS. While Didi remains below the .800 OPS line, it’s still impressive given he has only walked eleven times this season. Gregorius’ eleven home runs already represents a career high and his 41 RBIs will likely break the 56 that he posted last year. The scary thing is, this is just the beginning for the shortstop.

At the tender age of 26, Gregorius could very well be headed down a similar path as the man he replaced, Derek Jeter. However, Didi will have plenty of competition in the road to cemeningt his legacy at short. Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa are all young shortstops who made their major league debuts amidst considerable fan fair. Unlike those three, it’s clear that Gregorius will have to earn recognition.

Despite a strong first half, Gregorius was not among the 25 players to represent the American League in Tuesday night’s All-Star game. You can call it a snub, but Gregorius’ exclusion from the roster may have more to do with team performance than his own.

Team Performance and All-Star Voting

The main issue is that the Yankees have been less relevant this season than they have been in the past. Heading into the All-Star break, the Yankees held a mediocre 44-44 record. As it stands now, the Yankees are not even the talk of the Big Apple with the rise of New York Mets.

As an organization, the Yankees will always have national appeal because of their brand and market, but team performance can dictate player popularity and recognition. Take last year’s American League All-Star voting for example.

Just weeks before the 2015 AL All-Star roster was announced, the Kansas City Royals had a stronghold over the “Midsummer Classic.” At one point, Royals infielder, Omar Infante, led the AL voting at second base. Think I’m lying? Just check out these voting results from 2015 at the end of June.

Luckily, Infante didn’t win it. The infielder finished the year with an awful .220 batting average and just two home runs, but his very existence on the ballot showed how much the Royals memorable World Series run the previous year had vaulted them into the national spotlight.

This year’s National League All-Star roster was no different. The Chicago Cubs made a big run at the World Series in 2015, their first since their heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Florida Marlins in the 2003 NLCS. While the Cubs would ultimately fall short again, this time to the Mets in four games, their rise back to the top has did huge favors for their players, seven of whom were chosen to play for the NL All-Star team in San Diego this season.

Votes don’t tell the whole story however. Since they are decided by the fans, there are players like Gregorius every year that fail to make the All-Star squad.

The Evolution

Votes won’t describe how Gregorius has evolved from an automatic out versus left-handed pitching into an all-out southpaw hitting machine. That’s not hyperbole, that’s simply fact. Gregorius has been hitting lefties at a .359 clip in 2016. That’s 112 points higher than last year (.247) and 222 points higher than 2014 (.137) when Didi played for the Diamondbacks.

According to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, Gregorius credits offseason work with San Francisco Giants’ hitting coach and fellow Curacao native, Hensley Meulens, with helping the shortstop recognize off-speed pitches and hit line drives the opposite way. But Gregorius’ improvements also stem from watching and learning from the best.

July 8, 2016 – Source: Jason Miller/Getty Images North America

Yankee outfielder Carlos Beltran, said he often takes batting practice and sees Gregorius watching from behind the cage. Considering Beltran did make the 2016 AL All-Star team, learning from the potential Hall of Famer could go a long way in helping Gregorius make the team himself in the future.

With Gregorius’ newfound offensive prowess, what shouldn’t be forgotten is the shortstop’s strong defensive work. In 2015, Gregorius had the highest ultimate zone rating (UZR) among AL shortstops with a 7.4 according to Fangraphs. Taking both defense and offense into account, Didi has truly emerged as complete package on both sides of the ball.

If you’re a Yankees fan, there’s a reason to watch a team play .500 ball, and that’s to see Sir Didi Gregorius. The rest of the league has been slow to take notice, but Gregorius has certainly put himself in a position to claim the spotlight in the near future.

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