When the New York Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius in 2014, there was no way that they could foresee him turning into the perfect replacement for a legend.
Why? Because he had to fill the shoes of Derek Jeter, who was the starting shortstop, the captain, and a legend for the Bombers since coming up in 1996.
Didi, while attempting to please a tough New York crowd, overheard chants of “Derek Jeter!” during his porous Yankee Stadium debut, which would have anyone’s mind rattled and begging for a trade.
Not Gregorius, though. Alternatively, he covered his ears and made his defense rank among the best in the league in 2015. Advanced metrics showed that he had the second hardest throw to first while having the highest efficiency of any shortstop, according to FanGraphs.
Last season proved he was capable of playing under the bright lights of New York. Now, every aspect of his game is proving he has turned into an All-Star, despite the fact that he won’t be participating in the festivities in San Diego on Tuesday night.
On the year, Gregorius owns a slash line of .298/.327/.468 with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .795 and has already surpassed his career high in home runs (11) while playing above average defense.
That excellent slash line, however, is influenced by a below-average start to the season as he has maintained a .329 batting average over his last 55 games played. Additionally, he has hit five home runs in his last 10 games.
Over his last 23 games, he owns a .370 batting average including five doubles, seven home runs, and 20 RBI while increasing his season average from .271 to where it is now (.298).
Another striking feature of Gregorius’ game has been his ability to hit southpaws.
Amongst lefty hitters with at least 80 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, Didi owns a .360 batting average and has only struck out four times which leads all of Major League Baseball.
Overall, his batting average against lefties sits sixth in all of baseball when you include righties and switch-hitters in there. It’s one of those outlandish talents that makes this Yankees’ shortstop such a pleasure to watch.
“He’s on another level what he’s doing with the bat. Just both sides of the ball, he’s kind of going next-level, I feel like.”-Brian McCann via Newsday
The clutch gene has also found it’s way into Gregorius’ blood stream as he has come through every time his team needs him the most.
During Saturday’s 7-6 victory against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, Didi spanked a 96-mph fastball to right for a two-run homer off All-Star Danny Salazar to put New York ahead.
Then, with the go-ahead run at third base, he dove to his left to make a chivalric stop then flipped to Starlin Castro at second base to keep the ballgame tied.
In the 11th inning of the same contest, Didi was intentionally walked with two outs to put two runners on. His performance and respect shown during yesterday’s win demonstrated the level the Yankees’ 26-year old shortstop has reached. And that’s Derek Jeter level.
To be clear, there is no way Didi has done what the legend brought to the table during his 20-years in pinstripes. But at the very least, Gregorius is bringing us the best shortstop we’ve seen since 2012.
From 2012-2014, Jeter’s OPS was .703 while his replacement’s OPS in his first two years in the Bronx currently sits at .726. Despite the Captain’s batting average being better (.284 compared to .277), Didi leads him in slugging percentage, triples, and caught stealing.
Additionally, Gregorius’ has extended range and a more dependable arm so we aren’t wrong when we say Didi has been better than what Jeter brought to the table during his final two seasons in baseball.
The bottom line is, Didi Gregorius has flat out taken his skill to another level here in 2016. Right in front of our very own eyes we have watched one of the most exciting shortstops mature into something magnificent.