General manager Brian Cashman has previously talked about diving into the lower end of the pile in looking at batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to pick up players with upside beyond their basic numbers.
Didi Gregorius- Career
Gregorius hit just .226 last season, but the Yankees would seem to be banking on that being a misleading number.
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).
Hard-hit rate measures exactly what you would think: how often a player hit the ball hard.
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.
That list includes just about all of the game's elite sluggers. Gregorius' hard-hit rate was a match for that of Justin Upton and Mike Trout, and one-tenth of a point behind Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista.
So if Gregorius can hit it like those guys, why did he hit .226, the lowest batting average among those 34 players?
It’s a great question, and we imagine Cashman and his crew did a detailed study on this before working on this deal.
Their likely finding was that Gregorius often went unrewarded when he hit the ball on the nose.
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.
Didi Gregorius 2014 Ranks -
Among Players with 250+ PA
Had Gregorius fared that well in 2014, he’d have hit .259 -- a vast difference from .226.
He also probably would have hit a few more home runs. A look at Gregorius' spray chart shows a number of just-misses -- balls hit hard and hit to the deepest part of the outfield that were turned into outs.
Though Chase Field is a friendly ballpark for left-handed hitters, Yankee Stadium rates even more so. Some of those just-misses could have done major damage in the Bronx.
In fairness, there’s no guarantee Gregorius will be able to replicate that sort of hard-hitting rate in 2015. That’s where scouting comes in, along with buying into the idea that a 24-year-old still has room for growth.
That seems to be the Yankees' reasoning here. Derek Jeter may be hard to replace, but their way of replacing him is with someone who knows a different kind of “hard.”