Wondering what in the heck has happened to Didi Gregorius this month?
In short, the answer to all of your suspicions is “Yes.”
Yes, opposing pitchers are throwing Gregorius fewer pitches inside in the season’s second month, following his spectacular April. Yes, he is chasing more stuff outside the strike zone. Yes, he is making softer contact.
The onus falls upon the Yankees’ shortstop to counter all of those affirmations. To turn some Yeses to Nos and others to “Yes, but it doesn’t matter.”
“Now he’s trying to get hits,” Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames said of his struggling charge. “You look up at the (score)board and you see the batting average has dropped. It’s easier said than done, but our job is to continue to talk to him about quality at-bats. If he can continue to have quality at-bats, stick within himself, this thing is going to turn around for him.”
Gregorius, who hit third in 25 games this season and fourth in another 13, batted sixth against the Astros on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, a notch up from Monday’s start hitting seventh after he hit fifth on Sunday. He recorded a pair of singles on Monday in the Yankees’ 5-1 loss to Houston, and that marked his first multi-hit game since he singled and doubled against the reigning World Series champions on May 3 at Minute Maid Park.
Since that game, a 6-5 Yankees victory, Gregorius had put up a hellacious .085/.133/.141 slash line, with six hits — four singles, a double and a homer — in 71 at-bats over 17 games. Overall, he brought a .236/.316/.489 slash line into Tuesday’s action after being at .333/.418/.712 on May 3.
That spectacular beginning, which won him American League Player of the Month honors for March/April, could be attributed to several factors that could be validated statistically, and all of those statistics have dropped. Through the games of May 4, Gregorius’ chase rate had dropped to 31.6 percent, his best discipline showing in the four years that MLB.com’s Statcast has monitored this skill. Through Monday’s game, that rate had jumped back up to 33.5 percent.
Pitchers had been challenging Gregorius inside more, with a rate of 21.8 percent through May 4. It had ticked downward to 20.2 percent entering Tuesday’s game.
“He’s seeing some better pitches at times,” Thames acknowledged. “Some pitchers are throwing some things at times that he’s not expecting them to do.”
In accordance with the fewer inside pitches, Gregorius’ pull rate had dropped from 47.5 percent on May 4 to 42.8 percent on May 28. And his percentage of hard-hit balls had turned south in the same period from 37.6 percent to 31.4 percent.
Some of these developments represent regression to the mean. It would’ve been awfully difficult for Gregorius to maintain the elite production he displayed at the season’s outset. Of course, this hasn’t been so much a regression as much as a skydive.
On Tuesday, I asked Gregorius if it got harder to focus on process over results when you’re entangled in a slump. “You want to get good results, that’s it,” he said, although he insisted that he hadn’t changed his process. “Get good results and help the team.”
Following Sunday’s game here, a 3-1 victory over Angels during which Gregorius went 0-for-4 with a walk, he worked for another hour with the coaches. “He took some swings in the cage just to get his legs under him,” Thames said, and they talked about what has been going on.
“I think I’ve seen signs actually sprinkled throughout this,” manager Aaron Boone said of Gregorius. “I feel like he’s close to coming out of it. The one thing I always want our guys to do is be on the hunt and looking to be aggressive. Just because we’re controlling the zone, it doesn’t mean it’s an eight-pitch at-bat or it’s being passive. … I think he’s getting close to getting back to what we’re used to seeing.”
The game within the game is afoot. Everyone has a general idea of the necessary solution for Gregorius. It’s about time for him to start providing different answers to those questions.
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