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Is Didi Gregorius’ Power Sustainable?
- Updated: March 1, 2017
Last Friday, Didi Gregorius hit the first pitch he saw in the Grapefruit League opener out of George M. Steinbrenner Field. Didi’s offensive game is far from perfect, but he has made quite a few improvements in his two years with the Yankees. Namely his power numbers. Gregorius posted career highs in home runs (20), ISO (.171), SLG% (.447), and subsequently wRC+ (98). Will Didi continue to improve, or was 2016 a fluke?
Didi’s improvements were not unprecedented, he was only 26 in 2016, still entering the prime of his career. Power surges by Yankees are always met with a bit of skepticism, especially for left-handed hitters. For good reason, the right field porch is very short. However, when you look at Gregorius’ Statcast spray chart from 2016, you’ll notice that while yes all of his home runs were hit to right field, all but one or two of them would have made it out of one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the AL, Kauffman Stadium.
Didi hasn’t changed his approach to a pull-happy one either. His 2016 Pull% was 37.6%, in line with his career average.
If his approach hasn’t changed then what has? Players don’t transition from having an “acceptable” bat to being league average out of thin air. Projection systems like Didi and expect him to repeat his offensive success (to a slightly lesser extent).
Everything in hitting starts with the pitcher and what they decide to throw. In Didi’s case, pitchers threw him a lot more fastballs in 2016, 6.8% more to be exact, raising his FB% to an even 60%. This, of course, meant that he saw fewer off-speed pitches across the board.
Getting good pitches to hit is only half the battle, you still have to hit them. Didi Gregorius has always been a bit of a free swinger, his career 5.8% walk rate will attest to that. He turned it up a notch in 2016 though turning in a 3.2% walk rate. Usually a decrease in walk rate is accompanied by an increased strikeout rate, but not in Didi’s case, his K% actually went down 1% in 2016.
So Didi is swinging more often both inside and outside the strike zone, but his contact rate has gone up equally as much. Putting more balls in play is a good explanation for Didi’s slight uptick in batting average. The answer to his sharp increase in power numbers lies more in what kind of balls he put in play. Didi hit a lot more fly balls in 2016, increasing his FB% from 34.1% to 40.3%. That 6.2% had to come from somewhere, and in Didi’s case it came from hitting far fewer pesky ground balls.
It seems likely that Didi’s power numbers will regress a bit in 2017. If Gregorius can continue to get good pitches to hit and put them in the air, I see no reason why he can’t hit 15+ home runs and slug above .400 again in 2017. The last piece of the puzzle for Didi offensively is his OBP (.312 for his career). A great way to compensate for a regression in power numbers would be to draw more walks. In a time where the leagueis flush with great young shortstops, league average offense doesn’t jump off the page. However, with a wealth of young offensive talent around him, Didi’s steady bat could be just what The Yankees’ lineup needs.
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