By TED SANSON
Bater Blogger and Sabre-Magician
One old baseball addage says chicks (and fans) dig the long ball.
Another says pitching and defense wins ballgames.
Luckily for Yankee fans, General Manager Brian Cashman is making moves with winning – and not TV ratings and ticket sales- in mind. Yesterday, Cashman made his first two moves of what will be a very busy offseason in the Bronx, trading promising young starter Shane Greene in a menage-a-trade (3-way deal) for slick-fielding 24 year-old shortstop Didi Gregorius and signing southpaw reliever Andrew Miller away from the O’s for 4 years and $36 million. Both moves are quite shrewd in my in my estimation, but first we’ll talk about Didi and what he brings to the Bronx.
What’s the deal with Didi?
Didi Gregorius is a defensive wizard at short, and can pick it better than a second grader in Social Studies class. Didi’s D (pun not intended) is the strongest part of his game, with his live arm and Puma-like range in the hole providing a serious upgrade over a 40 year-old Derek Jeter. While most anyone would present an upgrade in the field over the grizzled icon, Didi can seriously flash the leather – and the stats back it up.
According to Baseball Info Solutions, a company used by MLB teams to chart and analyze data, Gregorius had 41 “good plays” at short last season in 580 innings with the D-Backs. By comparison, Yankee shortshops had only 34 “good plays” in about 1,500 innings. Didi’s 70 good plays per 1,000 innings last season is good for first in the bigs. If nerdy Sabremetric statistics don’t get your goat like they do mine, just wait til you watch this guy play. He certainly passes the eye test, and will make things a lot easier for Yankee hurlers in 2015 and beyond.
But can he hit?
This is where the Didi deal gets tricky. Up to this point in his career, Gregorius has been more Rey Ordonez than Jeter with the lumber, hitting at a rather paltry .243 clip with 13 homers, 57 RBI in 724 trips over three seasons with the Diamondbacks and Reds. Despite these weak statistics – there is certainly cause for optimism. Gregorius is a lefty stick – always a plus in Yankee stadium – and possesses a strong 6’2″ 205 lb frame, making him a potential power threat in the small confines of NYS.
While Gregorius possesses the athleticism and physical tools necessary to become a good hitter, there is statistical evidence that he is already on his way.
WARNING: More nerdy Sabremetrics are comin’ at ya.
Gregorius had an absurdly high – like Snoop Dogg on 4/20 high – line drive rate of 20.4 percent last season. Only 34 other big leaguers with 250+ plate appearances were able to reach the 20 percent mark, and Didi’s 20.4 was equal to immortal Mike Trout. Just let that marinate for a second….Didi hits as many line drives (on a rate basis) as MIKE TROUT???
While Gregorius did a stellar job of hitting the ball on the sweet spot, he only hit .536 on those line drives – and the average big leaguer hits .700 in those situations. If Sabremetrics are to be believed, then Didi is due for a huge progression towards the mean and a good first season in the Bronx in 2015.
Whether you want to believe Sabre-magicians or not, one thing is certain: the Yankees acquired an extremely toolsy shortstop that will – at the very least – be a significant defensive upgrade, and is cost controlled until 2020. Shane Greene unquestionably showed promise in his rookie campaign, but he was an expendable piece – the Yankees hope Tanaka and Pineda will anchor the rotation for years to come, with Nova returning midseason in the 3 or 4 slot, CC still being under contract, and Brandon McCarthy possibly returning (with David Phelps and Adam Warren also possible candidates for a back-end spot). Many fans fail to realize that in order to get something, you have to give something – and Gregorius’ upside is just too good to ignore.
The 24 year-old Gregorius may just find his way with the stick, and if he could push his average to the .280 range he’s most assuredly a winning asset. Either way, Brian Cashman is proving to the fan base he’s looking beyond free agency for solutions – and that’s a welcome sign for Yankees Universe. With the Winter Meetings on the Horizon, the Hot Stove is just starting to heat up, so stay tuned Trax Pack….your boy Theo will be here to cover all the major moves.
Coming Soon on OTT: Meet The Miller