Didi Gregorius‘ return to the Yankees, if nothing else, had to be a bolster to the clubhouse. As a stats and facts guy ($.50 to Joe Sheehan), I tend to discount such things. Hard to quantify “good clubhouse influence” but frankly, it’s important and I accept that.
There’s a reason why countless sports documentaries about championship teams talk about guys just like Gregorius being essential to the dynamic. Because they are. Gregorius, along with a few other notable players, is pivotal to the modern Yankees culture. He might not get as much publicity for the Yankees youth movement as Aaron Judge or Gary Sanchez, but Gregorius was essential. Plus, he’s really good.
The question for the Bombers today is, how soon will his bat come back to pre-Tommy John surgery levels? Gregorius has scuffled since coming off the injured list, though it must be noted we are dealing with a sample size of less than 120 plate appearances. Keep that in mind. Still, compared to 2018, he’s striking out more, walking less and his expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), which uses batted-ball data to conjure up an expected level of production, is way down from 2018 (.257 down from .319).
That picture suggests he’s working out a few kinks in his swing, as should be expected for someone coming off a serious injury. The grand slam Tuesday night suggests he might be figuring things out, but alas, three things should be noted immediately:
A), it’s a small sample size; B) Gregorius is healthy but could reasonably still have some rust to knock off; C), it’s a small sample size.
It would be foolhardy to freak out about this, so I’m not. Instead, I’m pondering what the Yankees might do with him should this slump continue.
The Yanks are six up on the Tampa Bay Rays and 10 up on the Boston Red Sox. They have a cushion to let players work through some stuff. It won’t kill them to let Gregorius battle his way through a low period at the plate, especially considering he’s still a solid-to-above average defender at a premium position. Hardly the end of the world. They should play him every day until there’s a good reason not to.
If the day comes that the Yanks need to adjust, this story gets interesting quick.
Gregorius, 29, is a free agent this winter. I’ve long wondered what the front office would want to do with him, in part because of Gleyber Torres. Torres, who came up as a shortstop, is a better hitter today than his emoji-tweeting teammate. He’s one of the best hitting middle infielders in the sport. One wonders if Torres deserves an extended look at short; if it turns out he’s at least solid there, his bat becomes all the more valuable.
The Yanks have infield flexibility unlike anything in recent memory. Maybe the team breaks camp next year with Gregorius at third, Torres at short and DJ LeMahieu at second? Who knows. Basically, any combination of the three will work, provided you keep LeMahieu away from short. What a nice problem to have, eh? (Won’t remind anyone of the latter-day Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez infields, will it?)
I suspect Gregorius will start hitting. The underlying metrics aren’t pretty, but one small adjustment and a hot few weeks change everything. The Yanks have no reason to overreact. Play him, enjoy the emojis and handle the winter when it comes.