Thursday, February 5, 2015

Yankees’ Didi Gregorius must exceed 2014 version of Derek Jeter

The New York Yankees do not need new shortstop Didi Gregorius to be Derek Jeter from the glory years, nor does he profile to be the type of player the former captain once was, but he can still make a positive impact on the club in 2015. For starters, improvement on Jeter's 2014 performance in the field and at the plate will set the tone for Gregorius' future standing with the club.

Gregorius, who turns 25 later this month, comes to the Yankees at somewhat of a crossroads. He is considered an above-average fielder by most (we'll get to the unpleasant fielding metrics that disagree with this later) who swings a bat that has some potential upside. Unfortunately, much of that promise has been shown in small spurts in the big leagues, more so in the minors and entirely from one side of the plate.

Let's start with the fielding because that is where most have said if anything he provides better defense than Jeter did the last several seasons. And this is a true statement. But, Gregorius should not be classified as the next Ozzie Smith either.

Gregorius has good hands, and a strong accurate arm, but he does not have incredible range. He was middle of the pack (13th) in getting to balls in the zone according to FanGraphs' fielding metrics of all fielders with at least 500 innings at shortstop. Jeter was ranked dead last (35th) in the category getting only to 65.8 percent of balls in the zone, where Gregorius got to 79.5 percent.

As for the Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150), Gregorius ranked 26th with a -6.7 while Jeter was 31st with a -12.5. For reference, Atlanta Braves' shortstop Andrelton Simmons' UZR/150 was 18.4, tops in MLB, while Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy topped the American League with a 15.4 UZR/150. Gregorius' UZR/150 across 1,521 career MLB innings at shortstop is -3.3, so while better than Jeter, the statistical metrics don't make him out to be a magician up the middle. We will see how he does behind all the groundball pitchers the Yankees employ.

Gregorius has had some success in the minors at the dish, slashing .287/.350/.452 in 495 plate appearances in Triple-A. Granted, he played in the offensively inflated Pacific Coast League, but it does demonstrate he has some abilities with the stick.

In 724 MLB plate appearances, Gregorius' slash line is .243/.313/.366 good for a wRC+ of 84. He does not walk a lot (8.1 percent of plate appearances) or strikeout a ton (16.9 percent), but both areas could use some improvement. He has a little bit of pop (13 career homers), and he could get some boost in the power department as a lefty in Yankee Stadium.

Jeter, in his final season in the Bronx, slashed .256/.304/.313 and just 24 extra-base hits in 634 plate appearances. His 73 wRC+ was the lowest of his career in which he played a full season. This type of offense should not be hard to surpass, but Gregorius does have some work to do.

The question with Gregorius at the plate is whether he can improve upon his splits. He has shown very little ability to hit southpaws in the majors, slashing just .184/.257/.233 in 180 plate appearances with only seven extra base hits and an awful 25 percent strikeout rate. Against righties, he has generated a respectable line of .262/.332/.411 and a wRC+ of 102.

It has been bandied about as to whether Gregorius would be placed in a platoon with right-handed hitting Brendan Ryan, but that is not exactly going to spark the team offensively either. As such, it is expected the Yanks will give Gregorius the chance to improve against lefties in the beginning.

Gregorius seems to have the right demeanor where it concerns following Jeter, telling's Bryan Hoch he has no intention of trying to replace the icon.

"I'm sure they're going to compare me to Derek Jeter, but you know, nobody can play the same," Gregorius said. "What Jeter did, nobody can do that. So for me, it's just amazing to get the opportunity to play in the pinstripes."

Again, the Yankees do not need Gregorius to resemble the Jeter who helped carry the club to five World Series championships. Gregorius could stand to model Jeter from a work ethic angle; by putting in all the time he can to perform to the best of his abilities.

Hopefully, Gregorius can figure out his issues with lefty pitching and demonstrate the ability to field his position as well, or better than he has in the past. If he can, he could continue to grow and potentially thrive in the Bronx.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Didi Gregorius photo courtesy of "Not That Bob James" via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors' Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.