Will Didi’s Fast Start Last?
Apr 19, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius (1) hits a single during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Rockies won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The bad news of Aaron Hill‘s broken hand was somewhat tempered by the excitement of the impending addition of Didi Gregorius, the highly-regarded shortstop prospect acquired in the Trevor Bauer trade this winter. Although Gregorius had been recovering from an injury of his own (elbow), he was installed at shortstop on April 18th in the final game of the series against the Yankees. His reputation as a defender goes without saying because the kid is capable of playing top-notch, potentially gold-glove defense. The question was whether or not the 23-year old would hit.
Through his first four major league games, Gregorius has proven that he’s not lost at the plate, triple-slashing a robust .400/.429/.800. Because this is a minuscule sample size, the numbers aren’t all that important. What is important to note, however, is that Gregorius appears to be ready to contribute at the plate despite the fact that there is some heavy regression coming his way. Seeing him get off to such a hot start piqued my interest and I was curious to see just how he was getting it done at the plate, so some research was in order.
Before we jump into that research, it’s important to build some context on Gregorius. He has always been praised for his defense but the critique on him came with his plate discipline, or lack thereof. The Netherlands native has always been an aggressive hitter, as noted this winter by John Sickels at Minor League Ball. I was lucky enough to see Didi a few times in October during the Arizona Fall League, where this held true. Gregorius would try to jump on the first fastball he saw and pitchers that were able to command their breaking pitches were able to dispatch him regularly. He chased a few pitches that are still etched in my mind given how far off the plate they were, usually down and away.
Because of his aggression, I assumed that his hot start to his MLB career with Arizona was likely due to him jumping on pitches that he could handle early in the count, likely fastballs. Reviewing the game logs at mlb.com, some of that bears out. Of his eight hits thus far in 2013, four of them have been a result of Didi hitting the first or second pitch of the at-bat. Two of those hits came on fastballs and the other two were via the changeup. None of his hits this season have been against sliders or curveballs, indicating that he may still be having trouble with those pitches. His success against the changeup was a little surprising, but fastballs and changeups have similar movement (at least when comparing fastballs to sliders or curves) and he may be swinging at anything that looks like a fastball coming out of the pitcher’s hand.
We know that we shouldn’t expect Didi to keep producing these kinds of results because, well, a 233 wRC+ is simply ridiculous. But we also should expect the league to start pitching him differently if he should continue to aggressive early in counts. If continues to swing away early, he will slowly find himself getting less and less to hit. He’s currently seeing about four pitches per plate appearance, and that number benefits greatly due to a couple of long battles. Many of his at-bats have been over rather quickly, whether they resulted in a hit or an out. In fact, against the Giants on Tuesday, he saw only nine pitches combined during his first four at-bats, often jumping on pitches early in the count.
The pop off his bat and the frequency of good contact is something to be excited about and likely foreshadows what Didi Gregorius is capable of down the road. But don’t be surprised if his success slows down significantly as scouting reports and pitchers adjust to how they handle him. How he adjusts to those changes will be the true sign of things to come.
*Current stats were accessed 4/24 from fangraphs.com