Gio Urshela might just be the real deal

(MLB.tv)

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 VeloxBAxWOBAHardHit %K%BB%wRC+
Andujar89.2.281.32636.516.04.1128
Urshela90.7.308.36941.015.95.9129

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.

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12 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    The Yankees need to hold both Andujar and Urshela heading into 2020 and, as I mentioned a month or so back, the expansion of rosters to 26 players will allow them to do just that. They won’t know what they have with either of them. Andujar is returning from substantial shoulder surgery, the type of which has derailed other MLB careers. It’s quite possible that part of Greg Bird’s issues started with his shoulder surgery, and then were compounded with the ankle/foot injuries. As for Urshela, he could be a one-year wonder. MLB history is filled with them. Perhaps the funky baseball being used this year is responsible for his success, and it will be changed in 2020, and then Urshela reverts to his prior self.

    One option: The Yankees could start Andujar in AAA in 2020 (not sure of his options remaining) until they’re comfortable he’s back, and at the same time they can assess Urshela in the new year. If 2019 has shown anything, they’ll be plenty of opportunities for both, and if both are in top form next year, that greatly increases the Yankees trade opportunities. Almost all teams would be interested in either Andujar and Urshela once the former shows he’s healthy and the latter shows he’s not a fluke.

    • Wire Fan

      Andujar had 2 options coming into this year. And he didn’t burn one this year so he should still have 2 more option years.

  2. ez

    In re Urshela’s defense, see this (free) article on BP from when he was called up to Cleveland in 2015. Some great notes on his skill set and style: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/26896/painting-the-black-under-my-urshela/

  3. Wire Fan

    The expansion to 26 man rosters next year really helps the Yankees here.

    If they do re-sign Didi, they can go with both Urshela and Andujar. (with DJ, Didi, Torres, Voit). It’s not perfect, but it would allow the Yankees to have Andujar establish he’s healthy and Urshela that he’s for real. If they don’t re-sign Didi then they carry either Estrada or Wade.

    That also still leaves space for 5 OFs (Stanton, Hicks, Judge, Tauchman, and either re-sign Gardy or Frazier)

    Long term I think one of Andujar or Frazier is gone as there a lot of folks who could get DH ABs (Andujar, Frazier, Voit, Stanton, Sanchez), and they are all righty.

  4. Rob in CT

    Not to tell you what to write about or anything, but I’d be very interested in a deep dive into his defense. Both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference have him below-average at 3B, dinging him for not just the errors but range too. The ‘ole eye test, unreliable as I know it is, suggests he’s better than that. I admit it’s possible that my unreliable eyes got used to Andujar, whose D at 3B was truly terrible, and so merely slightly below average looks phenomenal, but… I dunno, this is why I’d love to read an investigation of it.

    • Edwardicus

      Defense stats are weak without at least two years of data, and even then, for infielders its probably more iffy especially with the shifts etc. [Outfield Defense might be easier due to sprint speed=catch probability, and catcher D has framing which is quite measurable and valuable.]

      Maybe one day we get a better idea of IF defense.

    • RetroRob

      He’s always been regarded as a plus fielder, and the eye test backs that up. If advanced defensive metrics, scouting reports, and the eye test all say a player is a negative fielder, then you have a negative fielder. If they all say he’s a plus fielder, then you have a plus fielder. If there’s a difference of opinion, as we have here, then I’d have to see more data over a few years. The Yankees positioning may come into play here too. Not to say that their positioning is wrong. Just the opposite. The freely available defensive statistics are no where near as comprehensive as what the Yankees (and other teams) are using. We unfortunately don’t get to see their charts.

  5. Muidats Eeknay

    Probably unpopular opinion, because I love Didi as much as the next guy, but… maybe let Didi go, move Torres to short, Andujar to second, and keep Gio at third?

    • lightSABR

      NOOOOOOOOOOO!

      You’re banned.

      • lightSABR

        That was the emotional response. The rational response is that Andujar can’t play second. He can barely play third, which requires less range, and moving him to second would waste his strong arm.

    • Rob in CT

      Por que no los dos? I don’t see why having Didi, Gleyber, DJLM, Voit *and* Urshela to start the year is a bad idea. People get hurt. I know there’s Andujar too, but he’s recovering from shoulder surgery and you cannot count on him (plus there’s really no reason beyond wishful thinking to *expect* his defense to improve dramatically, which it would need to do for him to stick at 3B).

  6. meh

    now write one about tauchman.

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