When Matt wrote about Gio Urshela in late June, it appeared that the new and improved Gio Urshela of 2019 was gone.
That’s what most expected: There’s no way that Urshela was actually good now, right? The wheels had seemingly come off in June with him batting .232/.276/.406 for the month and he’d simply turn into a nice bench bat who could field third base better than anyone on the roster. I wrote as much when doing the midseason grades.
Since taking over for Luke Voit in the London Series, Urshela has grasped his second opportunity and not let go. Since that game (June 29), Urshela has batted .337/.371/.663 with a 167 wRC+, the 11th best mark in baseball and first on the Yankees. The only thing to slow him down has been a pair of misplaced foul balls.
Just look at that recent spike after his midseason swoon.
Is he a true-talent 1.034 OPS player? Not likely. He wasn’t even hitting that well during his first-half breakout. That, however, doesn’t matter. Urshela has shown, by adjusting after his dip in June, that he is much closer to a true-talent 129 wRC+ player — his current mark — than one would expect based on his previous career exploits.
Prior to 2019, Urshela was a zero at the plate, as you likely know. Over 167 games, he batted .225/.274/.215 with just eight home runs over 499 plate appearances. He was OK at avoiding strikeouts yet there wasn’t much inspiring about his performance.
Yet nothing about his current season resembles 2015-18. Urshela is hitting the ball significantly harder, striking out less, walking slightly more and hitting all types of pitches better. A swing change he made while in Scranton has allowed the 27-year-old to do everything a player does better.
Funny enough, Urshela is hitting as well or better than the player he replaced at third, Miguel Andujar. Here’s Andujar’s 2018 compared to Urshela’s 2019.
|Exit Velo||xBA||xWOBA||HardHit %||K%||BB%||wRC+|
Isn’t that remarkable? Andujar is likely a better pure hitter — He did that at 23 and Urshela is nearly 28 — yet this shows how important Urshela has been. He could have put up similar value to Andujar simply by manning third base more smoothly, yet he’s replicated his offensive production as well.
So far this season, we’ve been given 320 plate appearances, each a unique data point, on Urshela’s offense that tell a significantly different story than his past. It’s still just 320 plate appearances against the 499 he had in Cleveland and Toronto. I wouldn’t yet call for the Yankees to give up on Andujar and go all-in on Urshela.
But these 320 plate appearances show a player who has changed in an era when players change all the time. There are many stories just like him — Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez the most successful — as players go from on their way out of the league to All-Star talents.
Urshela’s second resurgence gives credence to the idea that he could actually be the Yankees’ third baseman moving forward, a stalwart at the hot corner for the next few seasons. Just because he surprised everyone doesn’t mean he has to fall apart and crumble in the normal, predictable ways. He might, in fact, be the real deal.