Injury luck has not been on the Yankees’ side lately. Aaron Judge has been on the shelf for a few weeks, and probably will be for a couple more. Gary Sanchez is still working his way back from a groin injury first suffered in June. Now, Didi Gregorius will miss time with a heel ailment.
Obviously, this is another blow to the Yankees. Gregorius has stepped in as a quality hitter in the heart of the order, and his defense up the middle has been as steady as ever. The Yankees have the means to shuffle things around and replace him by slotting Gleyber Torres at his old position and giving Neil Walker the starting second base job, but Gregorius’ production will nonetheless be missed.
In truth, however, Gregorius’ injury is most unfortunate to no one other than himself. Gregorius has been one of the Yankees’ most dependable (and likable) players for years now. This season has been his finest and most complete season as a pro, one that looked like it could cement his status among the game’s best shortstops after being overshadowed by the likes of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa. This injury threatens to derail that.
Never before have we seen a season so balanced from Gregorius. Everything he’s done this year is something we knew he could do, but this is the first time he’s put it all together at once, in every facet of the game.
We knew Gregorius could hit for power after he set the club record for homers by a shortstop last year. We knew he had contact skills, after he posted solid batting averages in each of the past three seasons. We even knew he could take a walk and get on base, when he managed to post a 9.2% walk rate and above-average OBP back in his rookie year with the Diamondbacks. And, of course, it was always evident Gregorius could pick it at shortstop.
What we didn’t know is that Gregorius could put it all together at once, as he has in 2018. On the year, Gregorius has a career-high isolated slugging (.212) and slugging percentage (.482) and was on pace to smash 29 dingers. He’s run a 8.5% walk rate, his highest in five years, and a 12.6% strikeout rate, which would be the second-lowest of his career. FanGraphs rates him as better than average by baserunning runs. His defense still rates well by UZR, but we don’t need advanced metrics to tell us Gregorius has great quickness and a strong arm at short. We just need this:
Gregorius has done it all this season. He’s hit for average, power, run the bases, and fielded the game’s toughest position outside of catcher. Per FanGraphs, he was on pace for between 5 and 6 WAR, and currently ranks fifth among all shortstops. He’s just a rounding error behind Andrelton Simmons and Xander Bogaerts, so it’s not hard to argue that Gregorius has been the game’s third-best shortstop behind superstars Lindor and Manny Machado.
This is the kind of star turn that erases any sort of underrated label. Despite the fact that Gregorius has been a first division starter for years for the league’s most glamorous team at the game’s most glamorous position, Gregorius has never entirely gotten his due. MLB Network didn’t rank Gregorius among their top ten at the position each of the past two years, placing him behind the likes of Aledmys Diaz and Tim Beckham.
Gregorius’ teammate CC Sabathia summed it up best on the latest edition of Sabathia’s R2C2 podcast:
He’s amazing. It’s crazy. You know they do that top ten ranking every year on MLB Network... and I love that they don’t put him in it, because it just makes him work harder and be even better, but it’s crazy how they don’t respect him. He’s unbelievable.
The way Gregorius had been playing this year, there would have been no doubt that he was among MLB’s top shortstops. His offensive work outstrips anyone outside the Lindor/Machado division, and his defensive savvy is unquestioned. He’s never had a season in which he’s done it all like he has this year, and this injury threatens to take the air out of his sails.
Maybe Gregorius only misses the minimum of ten days with his injury, but with the relatively cautious way the Yankees have been treating their injuries lately, that would be a little surprising. Missing a few weeks would put a damper on Gregorius’ totals on the season, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to slip right back into the lineup without missing a beat upon returning.
It feels like an unjust outcome for the Yankee with one of the broadest skill-sets on the team, and without question the broadest smile. The sight of Gregorius on the baseball diamond is always a positive one, whether he’s sending homers over the right field porch, making sliding stops at short, or just being a positive ambassador for the game. Let’s hope Gregorius can bounce back quickly and return to help the team, and to continue cementing his status as a true star.