With so many elite sluggers on the New York Yankees roster, Didi Gregorius might drop in the lineup. That’d be a mistake because he should be rising—to the top.
Didi Gregorius‘ performance with the 2017 New York Yankees solidified him as one of the best shortstops in all of baseball. He set career highs in home runs (25)—the most ever by a Yankee shortstop in a single season—RBI (87), batting average (.287), slugging percentage (.478), and OPS (.796).
All of that came after he missed the first month of the season after suffering an injury in preparation for the World Baseball Classic while practicing with Team Netherlands.
With his offensive burst last year, he could be the perfect table-setter for this powerful Yankees lineup.
Obviously, most expect Brett Gardner to serve as the Yanks’ table-setter, a role he’s filled for much of his career. But there’s a case to be made for Didi.
He didn’t hit leadoff at all last season, and only has 45 career at-bats at the top of the order. But he’s put up a solid .263/.356/.474 slash line with two doubles and two RBI. But he’s never had protection behind him like he would with the Yankees. Pitching around him wouldn’t be an option.
After all, the Yankees have the potential to set the record for most home runs hit by a team in a season, breaking the record set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners (264). However, despite Gardner’s tenure as the Yankees’ leadoff man, it’s time for a change.
Leadoff hitters are not what they used to be way back when (okay, hardly even a decade ago). Back then, leadoff hitters were the speedsters—the contact slap-hitters, the bunt-for-a-base-hit-and-steal-second guys. Players just like Gardner.
Now, we’re seeing power at the leadoff position from players like George Springer and Brian Dozier.
Gardner is not as much of a threat at the leadoff spot as he used to be. For the fourth season in a row, his batting average was under .265. While his on-base percentage and base-stealing ability are both higher than Gregorius’, Gardner’s bat has not gotten stronger and he’s never been a scary batter for opponents to face.
Gregorius is becoming one of the most feared hitters on an already stacked Yankee lineup.
Didi might have been the Yankees’ best, and most clutch, raw hitter last year. The Wild Card home run, the two dingers in Game 5 at Cleveland. Why would you want one of the team’s better, most consistent hitters at the bottom of the lineup?
If new manager Aaron Boone puts Gregorius at the bottom of the lineup after Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird, a player with the potential to hit 30 home runs will see fewer at-bats throughout the season.
Having Gregorius guaranteed an at-bat in the first inning could set the tone for the Yankees early. Didi has power and, in the prime of his career, there’s still some upside to that part of his game.
While Gregorius’ career .313 on-base percentage might not be eye-popping and normally considered leadoff-material, remember, he has never had the lineup protection he does now.
A potential one-two punch of Didi and Judge could force pitchers to go right at Gregorius, throwing him fastballs right over the plate. No one wants to face Judge, especially with guys on base.
A baseball player with this much skill offensively should not have his number of at-bats diminished, which is what will happen if he hits, say, sixth in the lineup every day.
As Gregorius’ role with the Yankees has changed each year, going from the unlucky guy forced to follow Derek Jeter to one of the best players on the team, his numbers have increased. Why not see what he can do with another change?