While watching the 2016 Yankees and Didi Gregorius specifically, one might be thinking, "Oh no, not this again!" Last season, the proverbial replacement for Derek Jeter went through early struggles and many Yankees fans were not thrilled with it. Those frowns and negative thoughts turned upside down by the end of the season however, as the former Arizona Diamondbacks infielder became one of the team's most productive hitters. No Yankees player had a higher fWAR than Gregorius in the second half of the season and among the team's qualified hitters, he had the highest batting average, second-highest wOBA and OBP, and the third-highest slugging percentage.
That success makes his April slump in 2016 so frustrating. Fans have already gotten a taste of what Gregorius can do, and those sips were well-received. Through the team's first 21 games, Gregorius hit .221/.250/.338 with a wRC+ of a dismal 58 and a wOBA of .257. If the season ended today, those would all be career lows, so it's safe to say that he has gotten off to a ghastly start at the plate.
What teams have learned from Gregorius' short career though is that, frustratingly, this has been the norm for him. Gregorius might be taking the mantra of, "It's not how you start, but how you finish" because his numbers in the first month of the season have been anemic throughout his tenure in the bigs.
The first month of the season is perhaps the worst for him of all. He has been a lifetime .242 hitter in the first month with an OPS of just .654. His 2016 wOBA of .257 is not too far from his career .287 in March/April and not coincidentally is the fact that is walk rate is 4.5 percent, the lowest of any month in the season. He has been way too eager at the plate, as his strikeout rate is a lofty 20.5 percent, which also ranks as the leader of the pack. For what it's worth, that essentially holds true in 2016 as Gregorius has struck out at a rate of 19.2 percent and walked at a rate of just 2.7 percent.
What we have also learned from Gregorius is that these struggles will not last long. In fact, he typically rebounds well in the following month. He has hit .263/.326/.394 in the month of May over the course of his career with a much improved wOBA of .318, a wRC+ of 98 and walk rate of 7.2 percent. The strikeout rate is chopped down too, axed to a rate of just 13.3 percent. So the usually eager Gregorius will temper his eagerness and start to get it going.
If there is any time for Gregorius to turn it around as he is prone to do, it is now. The Yankees' offense is sputtering and consequently, so is the team. The Yankees have posted a rare under-.500 record to start the year and have looked dreadful at the plate. Gregorius is not without fault, as he has been unproductive. However, history bodes well for Gregorius offensively and he ought to be able to shake off the cobwebs.
Should he bounce back, the Yankees will have a very good one-two punch up the middle with him and Starlin Castro. The latter has among the best hitters for the Yankees in the first month of the season and could very well be off to the fastest start of his career. If he maintains this pace and Gregorius' struggles are shed, then the Yankees will do nothing but reap the rewards of a potent middle infield combination. It may not be reminiscent of Jeter and Robinson Cano at their peaks, but at this point the Yankees and their fans would take any kind of tangible improvement at the dish.
It's tough to be patient at times, but the signs for Didi Gregorius are nothing if not encouraging. If his struggles seep into the month of May, as well as the team's on the whole, then perhaps then it will be time to push the panic button. For now, staying the course with Gregorius is the most viable option. As history will tell, he is likely to make things right.