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Aledmys Díaz has become one of the Astros’ most indispensable players

In his second full season in Houston, the Astros’ infielder has never been needed more, and he’s responded with quality results.

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Aledmys Díaz is no ordinary utility man. Following a 2020 season that was derailed by injury, the club’s versatile infielder has carved out a key role on the 2021 squad, playing proficient defense around the diamond while slashing .286/.333/.470 with 6 home runs in 180 plate appearances, good for a 123 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+).

Former Astro Marwin González made himself a household name for possessing similar ability. When he departed Houston in free agency after the 2018 season, it was not long before former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow acquired his replacement, Díaz, in a trade with the Blue Jays.

Though Díaz may not be as prominent as González was, he has quietly proved to be one of Luhnow’s savvier acquisitions during his tenure.

In his first year in Houston, Díaz posted a 119 wRC+ in just under 250 plate appearances and logged a fair amount of playing time at first, second and third base. 2019 was a fine campaign for the Cuban native, but he’s elevated his play in 2021.

According to both forms of WAR via FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, Díaz has at least matched his 2019 output. Per bWAR, he’s already surpassed it — in 67 fewer plate appearances.

The 31-year-old veteran has adopted a significantly more aggressive approach at the dish this season that borders on reckless hacking, but he’s compensated for it by making substantially more contact out of the strike zone. Among Astros hitters, Díaz has the third-highest batting average on batted balls outside the zone.

A 2.8 percent walk rate is comically low, but Díaz’s ability to consistently put the ball in play has yielded solid numbers. Moreover, it’s the quality of contact he’s making that’s propelling his success.

Díaz has set career-high marks in Barrel rate, Sweet Spot percentage (SwSp%) and Hard-hit rate this year. Another clear indicator of his bat’s newfound thump is a .507 Expected Slugging (xSLG) against fastballs, up from .402 in 2019.

Ideally, he’d combine his enhanced bat-to-ball skills with his patient approach of two years ago — he walked almost as many times as he struck out — but perhaps the free-swinging method he’s evidently embraced is what’s helping him to drive the ball.

Defensively, advanced metrics have never rated Díaz much better than average, but both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Outs Above Average (OAA) have him well above average in 2021, accounting for his time at third, second, first and left field. OAA in particular puts his defense in the top 10 percent. Only five third basemen rank higher than Díaz at the position per OAA (min. 50 attempts), which is especially fortunate for the Astros since their usual stalwart at the hot corner, Alex Bregman, has been on the injured list for close to two months now.

Bregman’s injury is just one of a litany of hamstring issues he’s had to deal with in recent years. Though he could be close to returning, the fickle nature of hamstring injuries tends to complicate the rehabbing process.

This makes Díaz’s contributions all the more important. Additionally, what amplifies his value even more is the organization’s lack of viable infield options in the upper minors, which has occasionally forced Robel García into fairly regular playing time. Although he’s a competent defender at multiple positions, García has the second-worst wRC+ in the major leagues among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. His bWAR is -0.9.

Replacing an All-Star such as Bregman is not exactly feasible, but should the Astros need to continue starting Díaz on a regular basis, it appears he’s capable of producing numbers befitting the everyday role.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant and FanGraphs