The New York Yankees are the very antithesis of a breakout team. They advanced to the wild card round of the playoffs last season, so this isn’t a knock on their ability. It’s just that they might be the oldest team in the league in terms of their position players. Most of them are 30 or older and the ones that aren’t have been regulars for several seasons. So, your choice in this kind of a study is either to pick the only guy that comes close to the definition or to pick someone that more closely resembles a comeback player profile.
The choice for the Yankees came down to either Didi Gregorius or Starlin Castro. Gregorius has the worst job in New York. He has the impossible task of replacing the most popular Yankee since at least Mickey Mantle in Derek Jeter. Yet, when you look at the numbers from the past several seasons, he actually accomplished that last season without much of an effort. While he might not be the sexy choice in fantasy baseball terms, he is the most obvious choice of a breakout candidate.
According to defensive runs saved (Fielding Bible), Gregorius earned a +5 rating last season. That may not seem like much and compared with the MLB universe it rates him as above average. Compared to Derek Jeter it makes him look like Ozzie Smith in his prime. That’s how bad Jeter was defensively. So, in order to be a better player than Jeter was in his last several seasons, all Gregorius has to do is be passable offensively.
Where he has been
Gregorius’ rise to prominence in New York resulted from a number of factors. First, the Yankees and their fans were suffering from something most closely resembling Stockholm Syndrome as it pertained to Derek Jeter. In his last five seasons, Jeter averaged less than one win above replacement per season. He certainly was a great player, but like most great players he outlasted his usefulness. Like those other great players, the team was either afraid to address it or couldn’t see it for what it was.
At the same time, the entire game began to shift away from raw offensive production more towards pitching and defense. This change fit Gregorius (an above average fielder) and allowed him to discover himself at the plate on his own schedule. In the first half of the season, he slashed .238/.293/.326 as compared to a .294/.345/.417 in the second half. In most circumstances historically, he wouldn’t have even made it to the second half. That being said, the splits definitely force the fantasy player to look at his overall numbers last season a little differently.
Where he could go
When you take the context of everything going on in New York, you can understand why the Yankees are perfectly happy with these numbers. These numbers are attached to a shortstop that is probably in the upper third defensively. They are similar to last season’s numbers and those were good enough to earn him three wins above replacement. He really doesn’t have to be brilliant to get them where they want to go.
As for the fantasy player, they won’t get you where you want to go, but they won’t keep you from getting there either. In leagues that also employ a middle infielder (in addition to starting shortstops and second basemen) they might be good enough to fetch a starting role. Otherwise, he is a decent bench piece in a standard mixed league. He will get regular playing time, so he will mount some decent counting numbers along the way. If he has excellent durability, the numbers might even be greater.
A Rosy Picture
We can keep saying the same thing over and over. For those that have read the entire breakout series, it gets old really fast. As has been said numerous times before, there is a difference between basing a rosy picture on what a player has accomplished in the past and what he could accomplish in the future. The future is based on conjecture, so most prognosticators prefer to base their projections on past production.
If we base his ceiling on what he did in the second half last season then we are potentially looking at a .280/15/70/70 shortstop. That’s good enough to start in a number of leagues. I wouldn’t draft him with those expectations, but adding an occasional player like Gregorius to your bench is a decent gamble. He will play everyday and just might evolve into a fantasy regular. If he doesn’t, the worst you’ve done is select a steady player who can fill in in case of injury.