In Appreciation of Didi and Dellin
Graphic Courtesy of Elite Sports NY
Here at Start Spreading the News, I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks writing about how the Yankees can absorb the Free Agent departures of Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances. While Gleyber Torres may be a better all-around package in 2020, and the Yankees may be able to use one of their young starting pitchers as a bullpen weapon, I think that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the Yankees received some truly stellar performance from both Didi and Betances during their time in pinstripes. The Yankees surely have valid reasons for allowing the two to walk in Free Agency, but even despite my arguments to the contrary, both Didi and Betances were among my favorite players to watch since 2014. Because I spend so much time looking forward, I think it is okay to take a step back and appreciate the performance of these two stellar Yankees.
Didi Gregorius’ and Dellin Betances’ Stats in Pinstripes.
Dellin Betances was the classic story of the failed starter finding success as a reliever. Given all of Betances’ injury struggles in 2019, it is easy to lose sight of just how good Betances was from 2014-2018. As a reliever that only made between 60-80 appearances per season, Dellin Betances averaged more than 2 WAR by either Baseball Reference or Fangraphs’ version of the stat. While Betances always seemed on the edge of losing his control, he generally managed to keep his walks in check relative to his strikeout rate, averaging a 3.76 K/BB (outside of 2017, when Betances allowed his BB/9 figure to balloon to 6.6). In totality, Betances’ ERA was 88% better than league average from 2014-2019, according to Baseball Reference. Betances also was able to continually strikeout more batters on a rate basis every year, averaging 14.7 K/9, one of the best figures in the sport during that period of time. More importantly, Betances produced in consistently high-leverage situations, getting credit for pitching in situations that were 45% above the average leverage index, according to Baseball Reference. Even more impressive than his WAR figures, Betances was worth 7.3 Wins Above Average. By almost any measure, Dellin Betances gave the Yankees more production than anyone could reasonably expect even the best relievers to provide in a 6 year span.
Didi Gregorius was handed the daunting task of being Derek Jeter’s immediate replacement at SS in the Bronx, and he passed the test with flying colors. While Didi’s performance on the field was generally above-average, his light-hearted approach to the game and interactions with teammates, media, and fans alike made him a fan-favorite. The Yankees expected Didi to perform defensively when they acquired him via trade before the 2015 season, and he generally did just that. While the defensive metrics on Didi over the last few seasons are mixed, both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference rate Didi’s defensive contributions positively during his years in pinstripes. The eye test told those that watched Didi on a daily basis that Didi had good range paired with a rocket arm that stabilized the SS position defensively in a way that Jeter was unable to do in his later years. What became a surprise likely even to the Yankees was that Didi grew into a valuable performer with the bat as well. While Didi only gets credit for being 1% better than the rest of the league from 2015-2019 per OPS+, that ignores the fact that Didi got better every year from 2015-2018, to the point that he was nearly a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Yankees. Once you account for the fact that Didi produced that offensive output at SS, where the offensive bar is lower than it is at other positions, it is easy to understand why Didi was such a stabilizing force for the Yankees. Didi was something of a throwback, in that he didn’t walk much at all, but he also didn’t strikeout much, bucking the trend for hitters to only produce 3 true outcomes. That said, Didi also provided the Yankees with left-handed pop in the lineup, as he grew into 20+ homer power in his prime, even in his diminished 2019 season. In short, Didi Gregorius was everything the Yankees could have hoped for when they traded for him, and then some.
Much as I thought it made sense to re-sign both Didi and Betances, it is true that we have likely already seen the best of what each has to offer, and it is likely that both guys are on the downside of their careers for a variety of reasons, chiefly age and injuries. However, both guys deserve to be recognized for their performance at the very beginning of the re-tooling phase. Didi and Dellin in many ways were at the forefront of the wave of young talent that brought the Yankees from a middling team to a perennial contender. While I can spend a lot more time dissecting the statistics, I think it is simplest to say that Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances were great Yankees, and I’ll miss them. They deserve a thank you from all Yankee fans for their contributions over the last few seasons. Consider this my way of saying thanks, and I wish both guys nothing but the best as they continue their careers elsewhere.