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The steady improvement of Didi Gregorius’s bat

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While he’s still not a stud at the dish, the Yankees new shortstop has steadily improved his offense this season after an ugly April.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees' middle infield has been, to put it mildly, a bit disappointing this season.  Stephen Drew has been awful, plain and simple.  The fact that he is still getting thrown out there every day as opposed to giving Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder at least a chance to gain some experience boggles the mind.  On the other side of second, Didi Gregorius also has struggled mightily at times this season, but while Drew has barely shown any signs of improvement (or even life), Gregorius is starting to show that he might just belong in the majors after all.

When the Yankees acquired Gregorius, many fans were cautiously optimistic.  He figured to at least improve the Yankees defensively, and while he has never been an offensive force, he did post a 92 wRC+ in 404 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks in 2013.  I for one was certainly excited to see if Gregorius could get close to league average with the bat as well as providing stellar defense - I was hopeful, at least, that the Yankees may have found an acceptable successor to Derek Jeter.

But things did not go well for Gregorius at all to begin the season.  He made boneheaded plays in the field and on the base paths at the beginning of the year, and his bat was atrocious.  In the first month of the season, Gregorius hit .206/.261/.238 with only two extra-base hits and a 37 wRC+ (only slightly better than fellow Yankee Carlos Beltran's 23 wRC+ during April).  And with Shane Greene tearing it up to begin the year (he won his first three starts, pitching 23 innings and giving up just one earned run), some fans decried the trade and sounded doom and gloom for Project Didi.

Since April, though, Gregorius has steadily improved at the plate.  Each month, his wRC+, his average, and his slugging percentage have all risen.  In May, he hit a pretty poor (but still vastly better) .232/.300/.341 with a 79 wRC+.  In June, he managed a triple slash of .258/.293/.366, and July has seen Gregorius become an actually hot hitter, as he's mashing to the tune of a .333/.400/.389 triple slash with a 125 wRC+.  Overall, since the beginning of May, Gregorius has been pretty acceptable at the plate for a good defensive shortstop in a pretty stacked lineup, hitting .254/.306/.358 to go along with his 84 wRC+.  He's not going to win any Silver Slugger awards any time soon, no, but he is getting close to league average with the bat and adding plus defense (he rates positively on both the Fangraphs Defensive Scale and has a plus UZR/150).

What is Gregorius doing better now than he was early in the season?  The biggest, and most obvious, is that he's striking out a lot less.  Gregorius struck out almost 20% of the time in the first month of the season - since then, he's at 14.3%.  While he still needs to work on his plate discipline and eye (he does not walk nearly enough, and is even below his career average for BB%), striking out less certainly helps, as does the fact that he's hitting fewer fly balls now.  Gregorius has never had much power, so almost anything he hits in the air becomes a routine pop up.  Finally, he's pulling the ball a bit less now than he did at the beginning of the year, using the whole field to his advantage.  While he still has significantly bad lefty/righty splits (a 26 wRC+ against lefties is about as ugly as  it can get), at least he's started hitting righties.

Gregorius finally showing some life at the plate has got to get Yankee fans excited, both about his potential for a breakout second half, and the possibility that he may just work out long term.  While this may all be a flash in the pan, the fact that he's steadily gotten a bit better each and every month suggests he's making adjustments and getting used to playing in New York.  If he can continue providing solid defense up the middle and hopefully improve to become a league average hitter, Gregorius will give the Yankees quite a bright future at shortstop.