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What's driving Didi Gregorius' second-half breakout?

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The Yankee shortstop has led an offense that has mostly struggled since the All-Star break.

Didi Gregorius hits a two-run home run against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
Didi Gregorius hits a two-run home run against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees' recent offensive struggles have been well-documented. A team that for much of the season had been scoring an average of well over six runs per game has seen that number shrink to barely four since the All-Star break. A team that had not been shut out in the first half of the season has been blanked three times in the last 29 games. First place has slipped away. The Bronx Bombers now find themselves in a dogfight with a large group of other contenders for one of the two American League Wild Card berths.

Didi Gregorius has been one of the few bright spots in the lineup. Since the All-Star break he is hitting .355 with eight home runs and 18 runs batted in. He has 68 total bases, a .636 slugging average, and a 1.002 OPS. His strikeout rate is only 10.7% and he has grounded into zero double plays. Sir Didi leads the team in each of these categories.

So what is driving this breakout? The answer is simple: the same incremental improvements that we have seen from Gregorius since his arrival in New York.

Didi's first-half was quite good. After missing most of the first month of the season due to an injury sustained competing in the World Baseball Classic, Gregorius went on to hit .291 with 10 home runs and 38 runs batted in. He was among the top All-Star vote-getters for AL shortstops and was one of the Final Five, barely missing a chance to join his keystone-mate Starlin Castro on the team. The Yankee shortstop remains among the top producers at his position for the 2017 season, and leads most offensive categories in the second-half.

Gregorius' 2017 campaign represents an uptick over last year, which in turn was an improvement over his first season in pinstripes. Didi has talked about staying compact and going with the pitch. This is something he has been working on since 2015, and practice seems to have resulted in continuous progress. While his change in approach was first aimed at improving his performance versus left-handed pitchers, the process appears to have made him a better hitter overall.

The shortstop's defense has never been a question. Gregorius is among the league leaders at his position in nearly every defensive metric. What has changed is this: Didi was considered a glove-first player who fans hoped would not be an offensive liability. He is now a centerpiece of the Yankee offense.

At 27-years-old, Gregorius has likely not reached his peak level of performance yet. What exactly is his ceiling? No one can predict that. But a player who was once regarded as a temporary stopgap has become a complete player and a star. Didi Gregorius has emerged as one of the pillars upon which the next Yankees dynasty can be built.