The Yankees haven’t had a captain since Derek Jeter retired, and they probably won’t for quite some time. Aaron Judge is the team’s best player and lead-by-example kind of guy, while Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia provide the veteran presence and are more vocal leaders. Didi Gregorius falls somewhere in the middle. Not only is he immensely important on the field, but he also plays a huge role in the clubhouse.
He may not be a “captain,” but when Gregorius injured his heel against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees lost an irreplaceable part of his team. The team only went 9-7 without Gregorius, and no one was really able to replace his production. The total team defense went downhill, there was a big hole in the lineup at second base (as Gleyber Torres shifted to short), and the Yankees looked lost offensively, simply relying on home runs and striking out a lot. Essentially, the team was sleepwalking. However, that word isn’t in Gregorius’ vocabulary.
Now that Gregorius is back in the fold, the mood around the team has changed. There is more energy thanks to his effervescent personality, and the Yankees have gotten back to winning ballgames. Gregorius’ return gives the Yankees their best defensive infielder at shortstop, and also allows for fielding ace Adeiny Hechavarria to take on a role as a late-game defensive replacement at second or third base. This will definitely benefit the team defense, which had become a major problem in close games.
Where the Yankees will really see Gregorius’ value though, will be offensively. Basically, Gregorius fits an offensive profile that the Yankees have very little of in their lineup. While Gregorius is a middle of the order hitter who provides ample power, he also has the rare ability to also make excellent contact. He strikes out the least of any Yankee, and has improved his walk rate and plate discipline. In a lineup prone to strike out, Gregorius’ mix of bat-to-ball skills and power provide a different challenge for pitchers.
One other area where Gregorius excels is in clutch situations. He has the most RBI of anyone on the team with runners in scoring position, and he slashes .277/.382/.532 in “late/close” situations. Despite their offensive acumen, the 2018 Yankees are just above the middle of the pack in production in these categories. Getting Gregorius back, arguably the most clutch hitter on the team, will undoubtedly help the Bombers score more runs.
Gregorius is the perfect addition to the Yankees right now. The team didn’t need just another power hitter in a lineup full of them. In Gregorius, they are receiving perhaps the team’s second-most irreplaceable player (Aaron Judge aside). His defensive value speaks for itself, he’s a unique offensive player who helps add variety to the lineup, and his infectious personality can breathe life into a team that desperately needs it. Losing him for just a few weeks was brutal, but he will play a big role in determining just how far the Yankees will go. They are getting him back at just the right time, and Gregorius is more than ready to put his stamp on the 2018 Yankees.