If you had told me on December 5th, 2014, that the man who would replace an icon and one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, was going to be this amazing, I would’ve laughed hysterically.
Didi has been a fan favorite for a while now, as only Yankee fans knew what kind of player Didi has been. He has consistently been one of the most underrated players in baseball, with MLB Network not ranking Didi as one of the 10 best shortstops in the game but including names like Trevor Story, Elvis Andrus, Tim Beckham and Paul Dejong. This happened in January.
Didi had a career year in 2017, hitting .287/.318/.478 with 25 home runs, 87 RBIs, 3.1 bWAR, and finishing 20th in the MVP voting in only 136 games. The biggest moment of the season was the ALDS, when Didi hit 2 home runs off of soon-to-be-named Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in Game 5 and carried the team to a series win, and to this kind of reaction from Cut4:
Anytime you create this kind of reaction, you did something special
Didi had incredibly high expectations coming into 2018. People said he can’t get better, people said he wasn’t anything special, some people even said he had his best season. But of course us Yankee fans didn’t listen. We knew what our shortstop could do and we knew the player he was. We already knew how good he is.
However, absolutely nobody saw this coming.
Didi has started 2018 blistering hot. He is currently hitting a robust .354/.452/.793/1.245 with 9 home runs, 29 RBIs, and is already at 2.2 fWAR. Oh, he also has 17 walks (2 IBB) and only 10 K’s. Probably most surprisingly, his BABIP is .313 which is only .024 higher than his career norm.
He’s not just getting lucky. He’s just been good.
Now it’s only April and everything can change very quickly, but this article is about what we have seen so far.
There are currently 3 players that would make sense for MVP: Didi, Betts, and Trout. All three have been playing out of their minds, and any one of them winning MVP would be completely fair. However, I believe Didi is the current front runner for MVP. Here are his ranks among qualified hitters across the entire MLB:
|Runs Batted In||29||1st|
|On Base %||.452||7th|
|Extra Base Hits||17||t-1st|
|Win Probability Added||1.5||1st|
|Offensive Win %||.896||1st|
|Adjusted Batting Runs||17||1st|
That’s 16 categories. He’s only outside of the top-2 three times. I could’ve included more stats too, but I’m pretty sure you get the point.
Didi is on a new level this year. He’s taking walks, he’s hitting home runs, he’s driving guys in. He’s doing everything.
If you strictly want to look at WAR, Trout’s your MVP. If you strictly want to look at the team success, Mookie’s your MVP.
The Yankees were playing awfully and they were still 9-9. Didi is top 2 in 13+ offensive categories. Didi is doing things that have never been done before.
Looking at all that, Didi is your MVP.
Now it’s easy to say that Didi is the MVP and just leave it that, but there’s no fun in that. How did Didi go from above-average shortstop to one of the best players in baseball in one offseason?
Here’s a look at some of Didi’s analytics and plate discipline stats from 2017 and 2018, highlighted green for positive changes, and red for bad:
|Hard Hit %||23.1%||38.4%||+15.3%|
There’s a few things that stick out right away:
- Out of the 15 stats, only one of them has a negative change.
- He’s bought into the fly ball revolution by cutting his GB% to increase his LD% and FB%.
- His hard hit % is up over 15%, he’s just making better contact.
- His Z-Contact% is 96.2, which means he’s making connection with 96.2% of pitches thrown in the strike zone. WOW. The MLB average is 85%.
The biggest change for Didi is a simple one: he’s walking more and striking out less. Didi currently has 17 walks in only 23 games. In 2017, he didn’t record his 17th walk until August 18th, his 97th game. Adding walks is a simple yet vital aspect to any players game, because being able to take a walk allows the rest of your offense to round out. Taking more pitches allows you to see more pitches, and in turn lets you see better pitches to hit. Didi still goes up to the plate and swings at first and second pitches, but he’s taking more pitches as a whole, and it’s going to help him continue this amazing start.
Didi has also started swinging less in general. A lot of his issues in the beginning of his career is that he’d swing at pretty much anything and try to put it in play. He’s dropped his swinging percentage over 12% and his swinging strike% by almost 4%, which is one of the big factors in him taking more walks. The drop in swing percentage makes up for the fact that he’s making less contact out of the zone. He’s also swinging out of zone 12% less too, which helps make up for it as well. The 2% rise it shows for contact% is actually more than it looks. He’s making slightly more contact, but he’s doing it on a lot less swings. Another big improvement is the 15% increase in hard hit %. Squaring up on the ball is what has led to the home run and extra base surge, as he’s driving the ball more and not just trying to make any contact possible.
Didi has quickly taken the title of Cashman’s best trade. Coming off a career year and only getting better, Didi has quickly made himself a frontrunner for the MVP, and if his walk rates and swinging rates are sustainable, he could be this good for a very, very long time. Here’s hoping to many more years of bat flips from Sir Didi.