Coming into the 2015 season the New York Yankees thought they had a defensive specialist that would struggle at the plate, but not enough to overcome his strong play in the field. Early in the season Didi Gregorius was disappointing on both sides of the ball. His play was sloppy and his hitting made him look unprepared for the major leagues despite his two previous seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, a funny thing has happened since he batted .206 in April and .232 in May. He has become one of the most valuable shortstops in baseball.
Gregorius has the 5th best WAR in baseball among shortstops and the 2nd best in the American league. After his early season struggles his defense has been outstanding and his bat has actually been better than anyone had thought possible. In July he hit .317 with 13 RBI. In August he hit .310 with another 14 RBI. As the season tears on, at a time when the older players are starting to drop off and lose productivity, Gregorius is turning the back of the lineup into an area of strength for the team.
Let’s forget about the on the field numbers for a moment and consider the business side. Gregorius is making $533,900 this season. He will enter his first year of arbitration going into 2016 and is in team control through the 2019 season. It is not secret that the Yankees have a lot of contracts latched onto players who no longer deserve them. The Yankees are also tied to players who are doomed to live up to their contracts in the long run like Jacoby Ellsbury. In trading for Gregorius, the Yankees strengthened the middle of the diamond for a fraction of what it would cost on the open market.
Derek Jeter had an incredible 2012 season hitting. He led the majors with 216 hits, his second most in his career. Still, his WAR that season was lowered because of his defense. His 2.6 WAR in 2012 was his best since the team won the World Series in 2009. Additionally, Gregorius’s 2015 WAR is higher than Jeter’s in every year since 2009, not including the offensively powered 2012 season. The team made sure to let fans know that Gregorius would not be replacing Jeter despite taking over the position for the captain. However, it appears Gregorius has made shortstop even better than Jeter was able to at the end of his career.
Gregorius still has elements of his game to work on. Defensively he needs to make sure he isn’t trying to do too much. Offensively he needs to be more patient to lead to more walks. A .272 season average is hurt when the OBP is just .321. He had 22 walks in 80 games last season and just 24 through 125 games this season. Still, the 25 year old is ready to be solely responsible for lead the Yankees to wins for a fraction of what a good shortstop costs in free agency.