Didi Gregorius has come along way since almost being run out of town during the first half of the 2015 season. This year, he more than doubled his career high by hitting 20 home runs, with a .276/.304/.447 slash line. Defensive metrics suggest a step back for Didi in 2016, but his offensive production made up for it.
The big part of Didi’s improvement came against left-handed pitching. After looking like a potential platoon player at times last season, he actually did better against lefties this year. He also upped his fly ball rate, with a higher percentage of fly balls leaving the yard. He added 32 doubles as well, also a career high. His plate discipline remained well below average, but his elite contact rate helped him get away with it.
However, there are a couple of warning signs which suggest some regression next year. Gregorius had a .331 BABIP against lefties, despite a lower hard-hit percentage against southpaws. But he also appears to have a slight hole in his swing, looking at this heat map from Fangraphs:
Pitches that were up in the strike zone gave Didi a significant amount of trouble. However, that didn’t stop him from swinging at those very pitches as, if not more often than pitches that were down in the zone:
For reference, this is how left-handed hitters around the league decided which pitches to swing at and lay off of:
The bad news is that opposing pitchers might take note of Didi’s weakness against elevated pitches and use it against him. But the good news is that it may provide an easy opportunity for him to improve his poor plate discipline, which could bring his pedestrian .304 on base percentage up. Earlier, I argued that Starlin Castro’s low-ball hitting tendencies made it harder for him to lay off breaking balls in the dirt, which became somewhat of an Achilles Heel for him. In Didi’s case, it could be easier to avoid pulling the trigger on pitches up in the zone, since he hasn’t been very good at hitting them anyway.
Of course, in an ideal situation, he would make the adjustments needed to get better at hitting pitches above the belt. He also struggled against fastballs this year, according to Fangraphs’ Pitch Value metric. In all likelihood, the high heat may have been to Didi what low sliders were to Starlin Castro.
Even if his numbers against lefties come back down to earth next season, 2017 might be the year that Didi Gregorius finally breaks out. He turns 27 in February, so a more selective approach on pitches at the letters would coincide perfectly with what should be the beginning of the prime of his career. As a tremendous contact hitter, it is probably harder to develop plate discipline, since he can “get away” with swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. But forcing himself to make the necessary adjustments could help him finally live up to the lofty expectations as the Captain’s successor.
Data and heat maps are courtesy of Fangraphs.