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Let’s put Didi back on the Map

Didi Gregorious, once a hot name few years back, has been playing his best baseball this year. Let's give him some more credit for his performance.

Jeter, who?
Jeter, who?
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember the time when D-Backs desperately wanted to trade away their star prospect, Trevor Bauer? For some reasons, they didn't want any part of their third overall pick, who not only was ranked #9 by BA, but also put up 2.85 ERA in his last AAA season.  As soon as they made the young promising flamethrower available, obviously many teams came on to them pretty hard, and of all the choices, D-Backs picked up the package centered on a relatively unknown young shortstop, Didi Gregorius.

Understandably, the public didn't accept the news very well. Everyone was so confused on how Kevin Towers, D-Backs GM at the time, can send away his future superstar for almost nothing. He, however, showed a good confidence with his new shortstop.

"When I saw him, he reminded me of a young Derek Jeter," Towers said on a Tuesday night conference call.

Well, unfortunately neither Towers nor Didi works for D-Backs anymore, but at least Didi, just like Towers said, moved on to chase Jeter's shadow.

Not many people can do a good job in filling Jeter's shoe, and Didi not surprisingly failed his duty in his first year with the Yankees. In his defense, he wasn't brought into play heavy offense, but .265 .318 .370 wasn't going to make anybody forget Jeter. This year, however, he has been showing significant improvement at the plate so far.

He is currently hitting neat .298 .328 .468 with 11 HR and 5 SB. Such line will play anywhere, especially at shallow SS position. The problem is that we haven't seen enough to trust his breakout yet.

Before we dive in, let's clear out couple obvious facts. His .307 BABIP this year lines up pretty well with his career .292, so we can cross out the BABIP luck part. Also, although it feels like Didi has been around the league forever, he is only 26 years old, so he is still young enough to go through a breakout.

His biggest improvement this year has been on making better contracts. He still swings at the same amount of pitches (Career: 50.6%. 2016: 52.5%) but his overall contract rate spiked up (Career: 80.3%. 2016: 84.8%), which means he successfully cut down swings and misses for less K (Career: 14.9%. 2016: 11.0%).

Such numbers are more promising because those improvements came from handling breaking pitches better. Usually it's a part of a natural growth curve that a prospect starts to hit breaking pitches better as he faces more of them in the Majors. Didi especially has shown huge advancements in hitting slider and changeup, a key for a left-handed batter.

His another improvement came from the power department, which isn't as discernable as his contacts. His HR/FB since 2013 has been pretty consistent, 5.7%, 6.4%, and 6.0%. This year, his number all of sudden has doubled, 12.6%, and it's tough to find a reasonable explanation. At this point, it could really go either way, but I'm inclining towards that his power is real.

The Yankees Stadiums is a well-known heaven for the left handed hitters. Its LHB HR Park Factor is 115, which is the highest in the majors. Therefore, it's actually strange to see Didi's HR/FB number DIDN'T jump when he first moved into Bronx (Chase Field's LHB HR PF: 103). Didi did struggle at home last year (wRC+ Home: 69, Away: 109), and as a result his ISO H/A split gap was little bit small for a Yankees LHB (H: .116 A: .093). This year, he is actually playing better at home, just like any other normal guy (wRC+ H: 125, A: 95), and now his home ISO looks more like a Yankees player (H: .210, A: .135).

It's not 100% clear, but I think it's reasonable to hypothesize that he was more likely to be unlucky last year than he is lucky this year at home. Just in case you couldn't follow what I said, let me reiterate: His power number should regress, but his 2nd half should be closer to his 1st half than his last year.

Do you already own guys like Manny Machado, Xander Boaerts, and Ian Desmond? Good. You don't need to worry about Didi. Shortstop is a thin and demanding position, however, so there are numerous injuries and off days fill in. You would agree that Didi's first half numbers could have helped some of your rosters, and now you have little more reasons to trust him.

Rest of the Season Steamer Projection

SS Rank (Yahoo! Eligible)