It looks like the Philadelphia Phillies wanted the same cast of characters back for 2021 as they decided to bring back shortstop Didi Gregorius . While he’s average at best defensively, he packs a punch in that bat of his, and in a favorable home park, he can cover up some of his depreciating power profile. After a rough final season in New York in 2019, Gregorius was quite good for Philly in the shortened 2020 season, hitting 10 home runs with 40 RBI and a .284/.339/.488 slash line. We’ll get to his exit velocity a little bit later and why you shouldn’t worry as much as you think you should.
In 2019, Gregorius was power but no average, whereas in 2020, he was a little bit of both. His AB/HR was right on par with his 2019 season and over the course of a full 162 game season, he would have had a home run total in the mid-20s, which is quite solid. He’s posted an ISO above .200 each of the past three seasons and having one of the better hitter’s parks as his home stadium cannot be overstated.
Additionally, his strikeout dropped to a career low 11.8 percent, and his 6.3 percent walk rate is right around his career norm. After walking less than six percent in four of the five seasons prior to 2020, it was nice to see him get back to a more normal rate for him. He basically became the hitter that his career averages indicate that he is.
The elephant in the room is obviously his putrid average exit velocity from 2020 of 83.7 miles per hour. Sure, his career average is 85.8 miles per hour, but he was at 87 miles per hour and 99 miles per hour in 2018 and 2019 respectively. What gives, Didi? Well, his barrel rate dropped to 3.7 percent, and per FanGraphs, his 26.8 percent hard hit rate is a far cry from recent years, despite being right at his career average.
As you can see in the graph above, his average exit velocity was on the rise in 2019, but near the end, and through 2020 it remained low. Sure, there were some spikes, but Gregorius spent a lot of time beneath the league average, more indicative of his early years and not his final seasons in the Bronx. Yes, his average exit velocity from 2020 was bad, but it was a shortened season, and it’s hard to know what is meaningful from the year and what isn’t.
However, if you go back to August 4th of 2019 all the way through the 2020 season, his average exit velocity was 86.2 miles per hour. Is that lower than we might like? Yes. Is it better than his 2020 mark? Absolutely, and much closer to where he had been. Covering those 581 plate appearances, he hit 26 home runs and swiped five bags. A good home park can cover a lot of flaws, and it just so happens that Gregorius has that luxury.
While his launch angle remained steady, he got under more balls, and as you can see, towards the upper left, there are a ton of gray circles. To me, that screams pop ups, and ones that likely didn’t make it out of the infield, unless he hit the you know what out of it. Then, it might have made it to the outfield grass, at best.
Also, there’s a few more pink circles, so that’s obviously a good thing, too.
Since August 4th of 2019, his exit velocity is 86.2 miles per hour, which is low, yes, but not as bad as just his 2020 mark makes him out to be. Covering those 581 plate appearances, he has 26 home runs and 5 stolen bases. Would you take that stat line from Gregorius in 2021? Yes, obviously you need to know where his batting average ends up, but 26 home runs and five stolen bases would be shades of 2017 and 2018 Gregorius.
He stole 10 bases back in 2018, but just five bases (3 CS) in his last 142 games. Is he losing a step? Perhaps, as his percentile for sprint speed has dropped each of the past four years, but he’s still in the upper half of the league (58th percentile). However, his days of running a good bit are likely over. He’ll steal more in PHI than he did in NYY, but banking on anything above 6-8 stolen bases is putting yourself in a tough spot. Part of me worries I’m on the high end with his projection, considering 2016 and 2018 are the only years of his entire MLB career that he’s swiped at least seven bases.
As the 17th shortstop off the board, per NFBC data, you could do far worse than Gregorius as your backup shortstop or at your middle infielder or utility spot. He has a great home park and will amidst a powerful lineup that should pad his counting statistics quite nicely. He’s pretty affordable, so long as his signing back in Philadelphia doesn’t push his average draft position up another round or two.
As long as there isn’t further regression in his batted ball profile, his favorable home park should lessen some of those concerns, and Gregorius should be able to give somewhere around 25 home runs with at least 75 RBI and a stolen base here and there.