February 20, 2017
Deep, But Playable
Didi Gregorius, Power Hitter?
We’ve long recognized Didi Gregorius as a deft hand in the field. The question was always how much he would end up hitting. It’s a question that wasn’t asked too often, given the low baseline for meaningful contribution, set cleat-high due to how good he was at one of the most difficult positions.
But last year Gregorius demonstrated hitting ability well above the ankles. He posted the best offensive season of his career, smashing 20 dongs en route to the fourth-most valuable season of any non-pitcher on the Yankees (2.2 WARP). While Gregorius wasn’t a league-average offensive performer, he was close enough, and likely would have managed that feat if he hadn’t seen a reduction in an already thin walk rate. Still, the relative explosion in power more than made up for a more aggressive approach at the plate, as he stroked a career-high in doubles to go with the aforementioned home runs.
That doesn’t make him a key to the Yankees’ 2017 season by any means. It does, however, make this is a potentially crucial season for his career, as he begins to get more expensive in arbitration. The question has shifted, then, from “how much will he hit?” to “can he replicate his success?”―or, perhaps, “where did that power come from and is it sustainable?”
There was a league-wide boost in power in 2016, with many players seeing a significant rise in fly-ball percentage, leading to more extra-base hits, including more home runs. This was true for Gregorius as well, as he bumped his fly-ball rate six percentage points:
That lends credence to the power outburst, even if we wouldn’t expect 20 home runs again. But wait, let’s expand our look at his fly-ball rates:
OK, so maybe the fly-ball rate doesn’t explain it all, as Gregorius was routinely over 40 percent with the Diamondbacks but failed to crack double digits in home runs, albeit in fewer plate appearances. Even without a career-high fly-ball rate, it’s possible that more of those fly balls came via optimal launch angles, right? Well, when measuring the number of balls off of Gregorius’ bat between launch angles of 22 and 30 degrees, Baseball Savant tells us there was the exact same number in 2016 as in 2015. So ... guess not.