Yesterday, Cameron Maybin joined the ranks of 2019 Yankees who hit the Injured List. He was the 75th (that may be an exaggeration) Yankee to do so this season. Given just how many players have been injured this year, 2019 could’ve been a disaster. To our pleasant and collective surprise, though, that hasn’t been the case. The team is in first place and rolling right along. One of the most pleasant individual surprises of all has been third baseman Gio Urshela.
Thrust into a starting infield role with Miguel Andujar’s injury in particular, he took the opportunity by the horns and raked out of the gate. In April, he hit .345/.409/.500/.909. His good play continued into May where he hit .333/.375/.469/.844. This was enough to earn him a spot on the All Star ballot and, thanks to enterprising Yankee fans, a spot in the final three voting. June, however, has not been kind to Gio. This month, he’s hit just .220/.281/.380/.661, much more like his career numbers than the first two months.
If we take a look at his gamelogs, we see he crested on May 7th with a .970 OPS after a 2-4 day with a double and a homer against the Mariners. From that point on, he’s hit .272/.317/.395/.712. In a vacuum, that performance paired with his defense would be more than acceptable for a replacement player–some contact and not a completely automatic out–but compared to how he started the year, it looks pretty bad. So what happened? Let’s take a look at something from FanGraphs to give us a hint.
As the caption says, Urshela’s wOBA as the season has gone on is in blue and his hard contact percentage is in red. At the beginning of the year, he wasn’t hitting the ball overly hard, but was getting good results. Now, it seems to be the opposite. He’s hitting the ball hard enough, but instead of maintaining or even spiking again, his wOBA is dropping. A little luck at the beginning of the year and a little less of it now. As with most things baseball, it’s evening out. So how might this have happened?
Through May 7, Urshela crushed fastballs. He hit over 57% of them for line drives. He had an ISO of .250 against the pitch. Since May 8, though, it’s been the opposite. While the line drive rate of over 21% is nice, his groundball rate on the pitch has gone from under 20% to over 57%. This has, predictably, killed his power on the pitch–.111 ISO. It’s also worth noting that his production on sliders has dropped. While it didn’t produce much power in the beginning–.067 ISO–he was at least hitting a respectable .267 off the pitch. Now, both numbers have dropped: a .167 average and a .056 ISO.
So a touch of batted ball luck reversal and a drop in performance against his two most commonly faced pitch types. Is he completely turning into a pumpkin? Maybe? But does it really matter? I’m not so sure. He’s played well enough in the field to earn his spot as a bench guy now that everyone seems to be healthy. Additionally, his high level of play–however far above his head–helped keep the Yankees not just treading water, but comfortably above it. Deserving or not in any traditional sense, vote for Gio in the coming days and send him to the All Star Game. If nothing else, it would be as pleasant a surprise as this injury-laden season has been.