Lack of production from up-the-middle positions holding the Yankees back

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Back in the day, the late-1990s dynasty was built on excellent production from the up-the-middle positions. The Yankees were getting high-end production from Jorge Posada at catcher, Derek Jeter at short, and Bernie Williams in center. Chuck Knoblauch never did put up huge numbers with the Yankees like he did with the Twins, but he still had a .377 OBP as the starting second baseman from 1998-99.

Those four positions are the hardest to fill in baseball, historically. Third base is tough too, but not as tough. Quality first basemen and corner outfielders are plentiful. Catchers, middle infielders, and center fielders are not, which is why teams are more willing to sacrifice offense for defense at those positions. It’s really hard to find someone who can hit there, so at least get someone who will catch the ball.

Right now, the Yankees have too many defense-first — in some cases, defense-only — players at the four up-the-middle positions. Jacoby Ellsbury in center field is the team’s only up-the-middle player who has been solidly above-average on both sides of the ball so far this season. Brian McCann, Stephen Drew, and Didi Gregorius are providing defense but very little offense, especially the last two.

Position NYY Player NYY AVG/OBP/SLG Average MLB AVG/OBP/SLG
C McCann  .228/.279/.382 (78 wRC+) .235/.302/.363 (83 wRC+)
2B Drew  .188/.271/.350 (70 wRC+)  .262/.321/.391 (96 wRC+)
SS Gregorius  .204/.269/.241 (42 wRC+)  .248/.304/.361 (83 wRC+)
CF Ellsbury .324/.412/.372 (126 wRC+) .257/.319/.391 (96 wRC+)

Those are some really low bars and yet the Yankees are falling short at three of the four positions. Ellsbury’s been awesome at the plate, McCann’s hovering close to average for a catcher thanks to his power, and both Drew and Gregorius have been well-below-average. Those two haven’t hit at all. Like, not even a little. There’s not much of a reason to expect either guy to hit much going forward either, but at least Gregorius has youth on his side.

There’s no good way to measure defense this early in the season. You have to take any stats with a huge grain of salt because the sample is too small. Based on the eye test, all four players have been above-average defenders in my opinion, even considering McCann’s passed ball/wild pitch issues. Didi’s looked much more comfortable at short in recent weeks yet his early season brain farts are still hurting his reputation. He’s been really good in the field of late.

Overall though, the Yankees aren’t getting enough production from these four positions. It’s really just three positions because Ellsbury’s been great. It’s a bit unfair to lump him in here. The other three guys has been far from great though. McCann’s been okay but hardly what the Yankees thought they were getting. Drew and Gregorius have been miserable at the plate, bad enough that their defense probably doesn’t make up for it.

The Yankees have limited options to replace these guys, and the one guy they didn’t want to replace (Ellsbury) just landed on the DL. McCann’s contract ensures he will remain the starting catcher, and besides, finding a better catcher would be damn near impossible anyway. Quality catchers almost never hit the trade or free agent markets. Drew, on the other hand, is totally replaceable and the Yankees do have some internal second base candidates, namely Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder.

The best internal candidate to replace Gregorius is, well, Drew. Besides, given Didi’s age and ability, he’s someone the Yankees should stick with this year and ride out every growing pain. Give him a chance to play everyday and see what happens. The first 40 games of 2015 aren’t going to write the story of his time in pinstripes. The Yankees just got done playing a Royals team littered with players who struggled early in their careers before figuring it out, after all. Sometimes it takes time.

The Yankees have gotten great production from first base, left field, and DH this season, which has helped cover for the underwhelming non-Ellsbury up-the-middle numbers. Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley are kinda sorta starting to hit too, which will help even more, though the Ellsbury injury hurts. One step forward, one step back. It wasn’t long ago that the Yankees were getting top of the line production from the up-the-middle positions. Now they’re barely getting average production and it’s one of the reason they haven’t been able to get out in front of a wide open AL East.

Yankees turn to A-Rod for help with Didi’s defense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Things have gone a little more smoothly lately, but the start of the Didi Gregorius era has been quite the roller coaster these first few weeks. He had some adventures on the basepaths, isn’t doing much at the plate, and his defense has been shockingly erratic. Simply put, he looks like a young player trying to do too much to impress his new team.

I’m not sure anyone realistically expected Didi to be a force at the plate this year, and the base-running mistakes are kinda whatever. He hasn’t had any problems on the bases since that first homestand. The name of his game was defense. Gregorius was brought in to solidify the infield defense and while he has made a few highlight reel plays early on, he has made several physical and mental mistakes in the field. It’s been painful to watch at times.

The Yankees have and will continue to be patient with Gregorius, which is absolutely the right move in my opinion. He has a chance to be the long-term solution at shortstop and the club simply doesn’t have another player like that in the organization. At least not anywhere close to the big league level. The success or failure of Didi’s time in pinstripes shouldn’t be determined by the first month of his first year with the team.

That said, the Yankees want to see some improvement from Gregorius. So, in an effort to get him right into the field, the team brought in a former two-time Gold Glove winning shortstop for help: Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees — specifically third base/infield coach Joe Espada — asked A-Rod to give Didi some pointers at short before last night’s game. “Just the basics,” said Alex to Brendan Kuty.

“It was more just game situations,” added Espada. “I think just kind of working on his game clock. Knowing runners, outs, when to charge a ball, when to stay back on a ball. Situations that we have been working on throughout spring training and throughout the season. But I wanted Alex to be out there to give him that kind of insight that I probably, as a coach, can’t give him.”

Despite all his off-field issues, A-Rod has always been considered a really good teammate who is willing to help others, especially young players. He’s a baseball machine, hands down the smartest and most instinctual player I’ve ever seen, so asking him to help Gregorius makes total sense. A-Rod knows the shortstop position and he also has experience having all eyes on him as a newcomer to New York. He’s a resource the Yankees are tapping into.

But, at the end of the day, this will come down to Gregorius’s ability to make or not make the necessary adjustments. No one can take ground balls or play the field for him. The Yankees are smart to remain patient and I’m sure Didi knows what a tremendous opportunity he has in front of him. He’s the starting shortstop for the New York frickin’ Yankees, after all. Getting comfortable here takes time. Hopefully Alex’s help can speed up the process for Gregorius.

“It takes time to come here and play in this arena,” said Espada. “I coached third in Miami for four years but it’s not the same as coaching third in New York. I don’t call it stage fright. I think it just takes time.”

Dellin Betances projected to fall short of Super Two cutoff, Didi Gregorius will qualify

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Ryan Galla at CAA Sports, the projected Super Two cutoff this coming season is two years and 140 days of service time, which is more commonly written as 2.140. Players who qualify as Super Twos go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three. The cutoff is set at the top 22% of players with 2-3 years of service time and won’t be officially set until after the season. Galla’s projections have pretty spot on over the years.

The projected cutoff means Dellin Betances will fall well short of Super Two status following the season. He came into the season with 1.078 years of service time and, assuming his spotty command doesn’t land him in Triple-A at some point this summer, he’ll finish the season at 2.078. He’s more than two months short of qualifying, so even if Galla’s projection is off considerably, Betances still figures to be a non-Super Two player.

Assuming Dellin finds his mojo and starts dominating again — not a guarantee but let’s roll with it — his arbitration salaries figure to be higher than David Robertson‘s because of the co-closer system. Saves pay, even just a few of them. Robertson earned $1.6M, $3.1M, and $5.125M in his three arbitration years as a setup man. Dellin’s arbitration salaries could instead be along the lines of on again, off again closer (and ex-Yank) Mark Melancon‘s, who made $2.595M in his first year of arbitration and $5.4M in his second. (Next year will be his third.)

Now, if Betances were to take over the closer’s job outright, his arbitration salaries would skyrocket. Kenley Jansen made $4.3M and $7.425M during his first two years of arbitration, for example. The Yankees could look into signing Dellin to a long-term contract extension, but I think the unexpected return of pre-2014 Betances this year is enough to scare everything into waiting a little while longer. He’s a major boom or bust guy — Dellin could dominate and make Craig Kimbrel money or flame out faster than Derrick Turnbow.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The projected Super Two cutoff also means Didi Gregorius will qualify as a Super Two by a handful of days — he came into the season with 1.159 years of service time and will finish at 2.159. He’ll qualify by less than three weeks. Gregorius won’t command huge arbitration salaries but being a defense first middle infielder pays more than you think. Similar players like Darwin Barney and Zack Cozart made $2.3M or so in their first years of arbitration, though they weren’t Super Twos. Gregorius might come in a bit under that this offseason.

It’s easy to say this now given his slow start to the season, but even if he was tearing the cover off the ball these last ten days, I still think the Yankees would be better off letting Gregorius play out his arbitration years rather than look to sign him to an extension. The Yankees will be able to afford to pay him whatever arbitration requires, and the risk that he doesn’t hit enough to keep a regular lineup spot is much greater than the risk of him breaking out offensively and commanding big bucks. Slow start or not, Didi’s a year-to-year guy for me.

Obviously the roster will change over the next few months, but right now the Yankees are looking at a decently sized arbitration class after the season. Gregorius, Adam Warren, and Justin Wilson will be eligible for the first time; David Carpenter, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi will be eligible for the second time; and Esmil Rogers and Ivan Nova will be eligible for the third time. Pineda and possibly Eovaldi are extension candidates and right now Rogers looks like the only non-tender candidate.

Despite brutal first week, Yankees have to remain patient with Didi Gregorius

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

To say the first seven games of the Didi Gregorius era haven’t gone well would be a pretty big understatement. Didi is only 3-for-23 (.119) at the plate and he’s been an adventure both in the field and on the bases, particularly the latter. He’s made some straight up boneheaded plays, like trying to steal third on Opening Day or getting caught making too wide a turn at first base on a single in the middle of last week.

Gregorius has not yet been charged with an error this season but he’s had some issues defensively. He didn’t throw home on Daniel Nava’s bases clearing double Saturday — no, it wouldn’t have made a difference in the game, but still — and he botched a potential double play Sunday because he couldn’t get the ball out of his glove. Yeah, that stuff happens, but when you’re already in the crosshairs because of your bat and base-running, you better at least make the plays you’re supposed to make.

Soon after that botched double play, some in the Yankees Stadium crowd started chanting “Der-ek Je-ter!” as if that was going to change anything. Gregorius heard them — “I just laugh, there’s nothing I can do. Just got to play the game. That’s all I can do. I want to do better, like (Jeter),” he said to Zack Braziller after the game — and it reminded me of the last time a new player was brought in from outside the organization to replace a retired icon.

Two decades ago the Yankees replaced Don Mattingly with Tino Martinez, and, like Gregorius, Tino got off to a brutal start in pinstripes. Especially at the plate, which is kind of a big deal since first basemen are in the lineup to provide offense first and foremost. Martinez started the 1996 season in a 3-for-34 (.088) slump, including 0-for-16 at Yankee Stadium, and was booed like he was wearing a Red Sox jersey. It wasn’t just because he was not hitting, it was also because he had the audacity to be picked to replace a legend*.

* I definitely remember Joe Girardi catching a lot of hell early that season as well. Fans were chanting “Stan-ley! Stan-ley!” after his at-bats because they wanted Mike Stanley back.

Gregorius is sorta going through what Martinez went through in 1996, though the circumstances are different. Tino was a veteran player who hit .293/.369/.551 (135 OPS+) with 31 homers in his final season with the Mariners. Didi is a young player not yet established at the MLB level who has struggled in all phases of the game. It would be one thing if he simply wasn’t hitting. I don’t think many people were expecting big offensive numbers from Gregorius this year. It’s become a bigger issue because of the base-running and defensive brain farts.

As painful as Didi’s struggles have been this first week, the single most important thing the Yankees can do is have patience with him, and I expect them to just that. They need to help Gregorius get through this — and by they I mean everyone, the coaches, his teammates, the whole nine — and get comfortable on the field. Maybe getting away from Yankee Stadium during this ten-game road trip will help. I’m sure that first week replacing Jeter at home was a bit overwhelming. How could it not be?

Everyone wants young players but no one wants the growing pains. Gregorius is a young player still trying to find his way in the big leagues, and now he has to do it in New York while replacing an icon. Comparatively, Tino had it easy in 1996. He was a veteran player who could point to the back of his baseball card when he stumbled out of the gate. Gregorius can’t do that. New York is a great place to play if you thrive, but man, if you struggle early in your first season with the Yankees, it can be very tough to win people over.

“He’s struggling, but I’m not worried about him. The concern I have is if he starts worrying about himself. He’s in a new city and he has to impress. There’s nothing much you can do for him except keep encouraging him and talking to him,” said the manager about his new player to Claire Smith, except that wasn’t Girardi talking about Gregorius. That was Joe Torre talking about Tino in 1996 and it applies to Gregorius today. The Yankees have to keep encouraging him and help him through this tough start. To change the way they feel about him or treat him after seven games, not matter how bad, would be a big mistake. As ugly as it has been, this is part of Didi’s development.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

CATCHERS (2)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

INFIELDERS (7)
Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

STARTERS (5)
Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

RELIEVERS (7)
Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

DISABLED LIST (4)
Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela injuries don’t leave Yankees many backup infielder options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By and large, the Yankees have made it through Spring Training without any major injuries to significant players. Chris Capuano will miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and while it’s never a good thing to lose pitching depth, he is replaceable. Brendan Ryan suffered a Grade II calf strain yesterday and had to be literally carried off the field. He’s not going to be ready in time for Opening Day, which is now only four days away. Not by a long shot.

Losing Ryan in and of itself is not a big deal, but the middle infield injuries are starting to pile up. Didi Gregorius has missed the last few days with a wrist sprain and is scheduled to return to game action this afternoon, so at least he’s on the mend. Jose Pirela has not done anything more than ride a stationary bike after crashing into the outfield wall ten days ago and suffering a concussion. Thankfully everything seems to be going well with Didi’s wrist, but Ryan and Pirela being hurt at the same time means the Yankees need a new backup infielder. Their options are pretty limited with Opening Day right around the corner. Let’s run ’em down.

A-Rod at Shortstop?

A-Rod mustache

Nope. Moving on …

The Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder Option

The Yankees have insisted Drew is a second baseman, so much so that he’s played zero innings at shortstop during Grapefruit League play. That’ll change today though. Drew is slated to play shortstop during one of the team’s split squad games this afternoon — for what it’s worth, he said he feels he could pick shortstop back up quickly — just so he could be an option in case Didi’s wrist issue lingers.

Following Ryan’s injury yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees could go into the season with Drew as their backup plan at shortstop and carry a second baseman as the backup infielder. That’s about as close as Girardi could come to saying Refsnyder is a candidate for the backup infielder’s job without actually saying it.

“Things can happen quick,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Refsnyder’s bat would be a welcome addition to the bench, but, as we’ve seen this spring, his defense is far from MLB ready. I don’t think the Yankees want to go through the hassle of adding Refsnyder to the 40-man roster* only to have him sit on the bench four out of every five games either. That doesn’t help his development or the team. And no, like it or not Refsnyder wouldn’t take over as the starting second baseman. They’ve made that very clear.

So yes, using Drew as the backup shortstop and carrying Refsnyder as the backup second baseman is an option, but not an ideal one. The 40-man issue is not insignificant — once Refsnyder is added he won’t come off, so flexibility would be hurt — and the Yankees would need to feel confident in Alex Rodriguez as Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. At this point of his career, I don’t see what good being a part-time player does for Refsnyder.

* The 40-man roster is indeed full. The official site shows 39 players but is missing Tyler Austin for whatever reason. Ivan Nova is a 60-day DL candidate, so that’s one easy-to-open spot.

Other Internal Candidates

Beyond Refsnyder, the Yankees’ other internal backup infield options are Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, and the recently acquired Gregorio Petit, the first three of whom were signed to minor league contracts for this exact reason. To be depth in case guys like Ryan and Pirela got hurt. Galvez hasn’t played the middle infield since the 2013 season, so he’s not a good reserve infielder candidate. The Yankees need someone who can play at least second base on the bench.

Figueroa is a contact machine, his bat-to-ball skills are top notch (10.0 BB% and 6.8 K% in nearly 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances), but he has zero power and isn’t much of a defender. Noonan can’t hit but he can defend, all around the infield too. Same with Petit. Figueroa and Noon are left-handed hitters, which isn’t ideal, but there’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. When it comes to this bench spot, I think the club would be better off with Noonan’s or Petit’s glove than Figueroa’s ability to put the ball in play.

Figueroa, Noonan, and Petit would have to be added to the 40-man roster, though, unlike Refsnyder, they don’t have to stay there. They could be designated for assignment whenever Pirela or Ryan gets healthy. These guys aren’t part of the long-term plan and wouldn’t hurt flexibility. There’s a big picture element to all of this the Yankees can’t ignore.

Florimon. (Presswire)
Florimon. (Presswire)

The Out of Options Market

We’ve reached the point of spring where players who are out of minor league options are starting to get traded (Sandy Leon) or placed on waivers (Cesar Puello). It figures to happen with Austin Romine soon too. There are very few out of options infielders for the Yankees to consider as temporary bench players. In fact, of all the infielders on MLBTR’s out of options list, only one is not expected to make his team’s Opening Day roster: Pedro Florimon.

The Pirates are expected to waive Florimon soon, and while he’s a quality defender at short, he has basically no experience at second (nine games in the minors) or third (eleven games in the minors) bases and absolutely can not hit. He’s Ryan without the versatility, basically. The Rays just released Alexi Casilla to avoid paying him the $100,000 retention bonus as an Article XX(B) free agent, so perhaps he’s an option. Casilla’s a more versatile, less defense-y version of Florimon.

Point is, there aren’t many readily available infield options for the Yankees to consider during Ryan’s absence, hence the Petit trade. The Yankees didn’t get someone better because no one better is available. There’s a real dearth of quality infielders in baseball these days. Even replacement level guys are hard to find right now. The Yankees could pick up Florimon and/or Casilla for depth, just to have the extra body around, but they aren’t any sort of upgrade over what they have in house right now.

* * *

As fun as it would be to see Refsnyder on the Opening Day roster, I don’t see the point in carrying him as a bench player. He needs to play to improve his defense. Taking extra ground balls before games won’t help much either. Refsnyder needs game reps. Since Pirela seems to be on the mend, the Yankees can focus on a short-term replacement. I’d prefer Petit or Noonan but if they want Figueroa or Florimon or Casilla, fine, whatever. Either way, this player won’t see much playing time. Or shouldn’t, anyway. The Yankees only need a band-aid right now. Nothing more.

Learning curve, hard-hit ball tendencies point to offensive upswing for Didi Gregorius

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the winter the Yankees were tasked with finding a replacement at shortstop for Derek Jeter. Well, replacement isn’t really the right word. It’s not like they chose to move on from Jeter, he retired. Successor might be a better term here than replacement. Anyway, the search for a new shortstop led them to Didi Gregorius, who came over from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade in early-December.

The Yankees had been trying to acquire Gregorius since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings, though they needed to wait until after his disappointing 2014 campaign for the price to drop low enough. Simply put, the Yankees bought low on Gregorius, at least relative to what they think he can become. They’re banking on a just turned 25-year-old improving in the coming years and becoming a no doubt starting shortstop down the road.

Gregorius was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Curacao, which has produced a bevy of talented young middle infielders in recent years. A bevy of talented young middle infielders who all initially struggled at the MLB level. Jurickson Profar started slow before his recent shoulder woes, and others like Gregorius, Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, and Jonathan Schoop have been below-average hitters early in their careers. They all have that in common.

“(Players from Curacao) are all highly educated, all speak four to seven languages,” said Rangers GM Jon Daniels to Peter Gammons in December. “They almost all come from very strong family backgrounds. So they have little issues adapting to the American society in the minor leagues, and are able to blow through on their natural skills. But in the Majors, when they have to make adjustments for the first time, they haven’t got the baseball backgrounds to make those adjustments. And because we have gotten so intrigued by them, we tend to be disappointed. It’s not fair.”

Current Giants hitting coach and ex-Yankees infield prospect Hensley Meulens, who grew up Curacao, agrees with Daniels. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Meulens to Gammons. “The kids on Aruba and Curacao don’t play a lot of baseball when they are young, and the level is very crude. They play like eleven games in a Little League season. If you’re a kid in the Dominican or Venezuela, you’re playing year round. Don’t lose patience.”

Gregorius doesn’t have the offensive potential of Profar or Bogaerts and he isn’t as gifted in the field as Simmons, but he was considered a potential two-way player coming up through the minors, someone with above-average defense and the ability to be a league average-ish or better hitter. Baseball America (subs. req’d) consistently lauded Didi’s glove during his prospect days and a few years ago noted his “combination of solid bat control, good pitch recognition and plus speed lead some scouts to project him as an above-average hitter.” That sounds promising.

Now, here’s the catch: we don’t know if Gregorius, Profar, Bogaerts, Schoop, and Simmons will be able to make the adjustments Daniels spoke about. Meulens sure didn’t during his days as a player. Others from Curacao like Wladimir Balentien and Roger Bernandina didn’t make the adjustments either. Andruw Jones is the best position player (and best player overall) to come from Curacao by a mile. The second best hitter is probably Randall Simon. It’s not a great collection of names.

That doesn’t mean Gregorius and those other guys won’t the make adjustments though. They haven’t had enough playing time in MLB to show us whether they can. What the Yankees do know about Gregorius is that he consistently hits the ball hard. Subjectively speaking, of course. ESPN stats guru Mark Simon detailed Didi’s tendency to sting the baseball back in December:

Inside Edge, a video-scouting service used by major league teams (including the Yankees) rates every at-bat by a stat known as “hard-hit rate.” The service employs video trackers who chart every batted ball as either hard-hit, medium-hit or soft-hit based on velocity and barrel contact (former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long used to track this on his own).

Gregorius had a hard-hit rate of 20.4 percent. He was one of 34 players to have at least 250 plate appearances this past season and a 20 percent hard-hit rate.

Gregorius registered 56 hard-hit balls this past season, 30 of which went for base hits, so he hit .536 when hitting the ball hard.

That’s an unusually low number. The average major leaguer hits around .700 on his hard-hit balls. And Gregorius has hit that mark before. In fact, in 2013, he recorded the same number of hard-hit balls. They resulted in 39 base hits.

Inside Edge’s hard-hit ball data is recorded by human stringers, so there will inevitably be some scorer bias, though until HitFX becomes public (which may never happen), this is the best data we have for measuring quality of contact. Three hundred and eleven players had at least 250 plate appearances last season, and Gregorius being one of 34 with a 20%+ hard-hit ball rate means he was in the 90th percentile, give or take. That’s encouraging.

The Yankees have their own internal measure of quality of contact called exit velocity, according to Mark Feinsand. Brian Cashman mentioned the improvement of Chase Headley‘s “hit velo” after the trade last summer and assistant GM Billy Eppler told Feinsand their metric places Aaron Judge in the 90th percentile of MLB hitters when it comes to hitting the ball hard. The Yankees use Inside Edge data and have their own internal exit velocity metric, and I’m certain both were consulted before the Gregorius trade.

Beyond the stats, the Yankees also had a firsthand scouting perspective on Didi from Eric Chavez. Chavez played with Gregorius in Arizona from 2013-14 and now works in New York’s front office as a special assignment scout. “I was really high on him,” said Chavez to Bryan Hoch in December. “His defense is unbelievable, and hitting-wise, he has the potential to be a good hitter — a good .275, .280 hitter, 12 to 15 home runs. His swing plays perfect for Yankee Stadium, he’s kind of got that pull swing. Most of his home runs he hit, where he likes to hit them, I think he’ll be pretty successful there.”

I am generally a scouting report over stats guy when it comes to young players, but in this case I’m more inclined to believe the stats than the scouting report. For starters, I wouldn’t expect Chavez to say anything bad about Gregorius. Even if doesn’t like him all that much, he wouldn’t trash him while talking to the media. Secondly, the Inside Edge data is specifically measuring the quality of Gregorius’ contact, which ostensibly tells us more about his offensive potential going forward than, say, his batting average or wRC+ in 2014. Either way, both the stats and scouting report are positive, but I’m trusting the numbers over Chavez here.

The Yankees didn’t acquire a finished player in Gregorius, which is why he came so relatively cheap. Starting shortstops are really hard to find and the team believes Didi is an MLB caliber defender right now — based on what we’ve seen this spring, uh, yeah, he’s a good fielder — and has the potential to improve at the plate. Players from Curacao are slow-starters in general, and the hard-hit ball data suggests Gregorius got some unfortunate results at the plate in 2014. I am skeptical of Didi’s bat long-term, but there is reason to believe his offense will soon be on the upswing.