The whole Yankees’ lineup might take shape in a hurry in the month of June. Giancarlo Stanton is back, Aaron Judge is hot on his heels, and Edwin Encarnacion is suddenly in the fold. While the injured list still holds a chunk of Yankee hurlers captive, their hitters are getting healthy.
One of the biggest returns in June has been that of Didi Gregorius. With his addition comes an expectation of high quality defensive play at shortstop and offensive production at the plate. However, in his (short) time back, Gregorius has displayed a few traits foreign to his profile from recent years.
Since 2013, Gregorius has consistently found himself under the league average in strikeouts, but right now, his 22.9% strikeout rate is just slightly above the current league average. A sample size of 35 plate appearances in 2019 is tiny, so we know Gregorius is bound to lower this mark, hopefully somewhere closer to the 12-to-14-percent rates he’s run during his Yankee tenure.
To understand how great at avoiding strikeouts Gregorius has been over the last five seasons, I went to FanGraphs to compare all hitters with more than 2,000 plate appearances in that span. Gregorius ranks 18th out of 128 players. Of the 17 players who managed to strike out less than Gregorius, only five were able to accumulate a higher slugging percentage. The combination of power and low strikeout ability is something few players can manage, but as the season continues, expect Gregorius to return to his low strikeout form. He distinguishes himself with DJ LeMahieu as perhaps the only Yankees that can strike the ball with authority while avoiding strikeouts.
Gregorius has typically been quite aggressive at the plate in his career, but in his handful of games back, he has been aggressive to an uncharacteristic degree. He posted a 74.7 zone-swing percentage, but that figure has jumped to 87.5% this season. To understand just how aggressive that mark is, consider only Carlos Gomez leads Gergorius out of 474 players with more than 30 plate appearances. It doesn’t stop there; he’s swinging at pitches outside the zone at a higher percentage than he has his whole career.
Combining his higher rate of swinging at pitches within the strike zone and outside the strike zone together with his lower contact rate to start the season, Gregorius has seen his swinging strike rate of 9.2% from last season rise to 13.5% this season. This rise isn’t much of a concern, of course, because of the small sample size. His track record indicates he will bring that rate down, but what is concerning is that his aggressiveness has brought a lack of walks. Once his BABIP returns to the norm, Gregorius will need his walk rate to rise to provide an alternative way to reach base, because his BABIP has been under league average since becoming a regular in 2013.
Many Yankee players are transitioning back into the lineup, and expectations will understandably be high. For these returning players, these expectations might not quite be met at first, but slowly watching themselves regain their form is much preferred to waiting for them to return from the injured list. Gregorius isn’t playing as he typically does, but his time in the majors this year has been short, and in time he will surely more strongly resemble the shortstop of past years. There might be some bumps in the road, but soon, we just might be lucky enough to see the Yankee lineup we’ve all been waiting for.