Roughly two months after the Yankees’ shortstop of the past two decades retired, the Yankees found Derek Jeter‘s replacement in Didi Gregorius. It came at the cost of starting pitcher Shane Greene, who heads to Detroit. The Tigers dealt southpaw starter Robbie Ray to Arizona, with the Diamondbacks sending Gregorius to the Bronx. It’s a move that fills the shortstop position for the Bombers in 2015, with the hope that Didi blossoms into mainstay beyond next season.
Gregorius, 25 in February, gives the Yankees an inexpensive shortstop option now and for the next few seasons, with five years of control remaining. The lefty-swinger isn’t known for his bat, but is said to be a plus defender. Greene, 26, made an impressive debut for the Yankees this past season, and should step in to the back-end of Detroit’s rotation immediately. The Tigers hold his rights through 2020.
Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projects Gregorius to hit .251/.307/.369, with 9 dingers, above average defense, and 1.6 WAR in 534 plate appearances. In 2014, the league average shortstop hit .251/.306/.363. So, assuming those numbers are similar or worse in 2015 (they’ve been trending negatively), Brian Cashman acquired an average player for his position — perhaps slightly above average after accounting for his glovework.
I asked Chris to take a look at the KATOH* forecast for Gregorius through age 28, which isn’t as rosy (look out for an in depth look at KATOH soon). Here’s what it spit out:
|>4 WAR||>6 WAR||>8 WAR||>10 WAR||>12 WAR||>16 WAR||Expected WAR|
Again, those cumulative WAR probabilities are through Gregorius’ age-28 season (the next four seasons). That’s pessimistic, but here’s the catch: KATOH makes it’s projections based on the most recent minor league season, while considering the age and level played at. For Didi, that would be his 260 Triple-A plate appearances this past season as a 24 year-old. It’s understandable for KATOH to be down on a guy who’s 24 in Triple-A despite a good performance (122 wRC+), as someone that age probably should be in the majors already. However, the system doesn’t know that Gregorius had some success with the Diamondbacks in 2013. ZiPS, although only projecting 2015, factors in earlier performances, so I think Szymborski’s model is a little more useful in this situation (and conveniently favorable for the Yankees).
ZiPS pegs Greene for a 4.48 ERA in 141 innings, good for 1.4 WAR. The model foresees a 3.93 ERA for the American League in 2015 (see bottom of this post), meaning Greene is forecast to be below average. That seems odd given Greene’s performance with the Yankees, but he did struggle in the minors, and ZiPS isn’t going to make too much of 79 major league innings. However, Chris’ recent PITCHf/x analysis of curveballs and sliders is a big fan of Greene’s breaking pitches, ranking his slider 75th out of 185 qualifiers and curveball 25th out of 111 qualifiers. There may be some pitch classification issues in there, but it’s clear that Greene has a solid break angle and high spin rate on those type of offerings. With all this in mind, it’s plausible that Greene will beat his ZiPS projection and pitch a bit closer to his 2014 performance.
Before delving into the numbers, I didn’t like this deal. I figured Brendan Ryan could probably offer a similar package to Gregorius in 2015, as a guy who won’t hit much but be a defensive wizard. Meanwhile, losing Greene cost the Yankees’ some valuable rotation depth, which now makes retaining Brandon McCarthy and/or Hiroki Kuroda essential. Taking it a step further, perhaps the club steps into the Jon Lester or Max Scherzer market. Of course, none of that necessitated dumping Greene, as rotation help was a need anyway.
After a deeper dive, I’ve warmed up to this deal. A league average shortstop is a pretty good commodity, and it’s reasonable to think that Gregorius can be that type of player. Most importantly, the Yankees badly needed a shortstop, and Gregorius should be far more cost-effective than free agents Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, or Asdrubal Cabrera. As an internal option, I didn’t realize just how bad Brendan Ryan was forecast to be. ZiPS thinks Ryan will hit .212/.275/.281, with good defense bringing him up to 0.5 WAR. Now, I wasn’t clamoring for Ryan to be a starter or anything, but I was dead wrong about him being somewhat similar to Didi.
One thing we can’t quantify is the pressure Gregorius might experience. Replacing one of the greatest Yankees of all-time isn’t an enviable position to be in. Then again, one could look at being the Yankees’ starting shortstop as an enviable position. The truth is, we’ll probably never know if this situation will affect him. In all likelihood, if Gregorius succeeds, we’ll look at him as a guy who didn’t fret about filling Jeter’s big shoes. And if he fails, we’ll think of him as a guy who succumbed to the pressure. That’s the classic post hoc fallacy, but probably what Didi is in for from the masses.
*I did not include a KATOH forecast for Greene, as the model is only for position players for now.