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Room for Improvement: Gio Urshela

I’m pretty glad that for my first post at Views, Gio Urshela was still available for a post in the room for improvement series. As one of my favorites players in the team, my instant reaction was: “Amazing, I’ll take that one!”, only to see in the process of research that Gio practically improved in most aspects of his game in the 2020 season. Let’s see how we can do this!

Gio Urshela is one of the most amazing and unexpected stories of current baseball players. He went from an all-glove-no-bat fringe utility player to an amazing hitter, whose glove is now suspect according to certain advanced defensive stats. Since 2019, Gio is the fourth-best hitter in the absolutely stacked third base position. His 132 wRC+ lags only behind Alex Bregman* (you know I’m going to doubt that value), Anthony Rendon, and Justin Turner. And that value is also better than superstars like Manny Machado and Matt Chapman.

In terms of WAR, he is lower in the third base leaderboard because of his relatively small number of plate appearances  (650 since 2019). However, if we take the value on a rate basis (dividing his WAR number by his PA and multiplying by 600 for a “regular season proxy”), he is the ninth-best third basemen in MLB with a 4.34 WAR/600PA, higher again than Manny Machado’s 3.67 value for example.

So…If Gio puts a full healthy season he is going to be amazing. That’s his room for improvement right? Problem solved!

Just kidding! Let’s look under the hood to see if there is anything he can do to improve his play.

Offensive Stats Analysis

One of Gio’s most amazing improvements from 2019 to 2020 is that he almost doubled his walk rate, going from 5.3 to 10 percent. However, if his plate discipline improved so much, how did his wRC+ stay practically the same (132 in 2019 and 133 in 2020)? The fast answer would to look at his power numbers and see that his ISO went down, from .219 to .192, even though Gio hit the ball even harder than in 2019 according to his Statcast values. 

His average Exit Velo went from 90.6 to 91.4 mph, his Sweet Spot percentage went from 36.5 to 38.2, and overall his expected wOBA went up from .354 to .364. Therefore, it looks like Gio was a victim of good old bad luck, further proofed by his BABIP going down from .349 in 2019 to .319 in 2020. And while that 2019 BABIP value may seem abnormally high, it is backed by Gio’s supernatural ability to sting the ball, something clearly shown in his Statcast Values.

That gives me an excuse to show this…

Absolutely beautiful! Gio’s hitting ability is LEGIT!

Taking a look at hitting values for certain pitch types gives out more interesting analysis points. Focusing on 4-seamers and sinkers, we see the following numbers via Statcast:

YearPitch TypeRV/100Pitch %wOBAxwOBAWhiff%Hard Hit %
2020Sinker-2.220.10.2740.3586.363.6
20204-Seamer1.1360.3760.3412032.5
2019Sinker1.714.10.4190.39012.850
20194-Seamer134.10.4330.39622.448
Gio Urshela’s offensive values against certain pitches, via Statcast.

His wOBA on 4-Seamers and Sinkers went from .433 and .419 in 2019 to .376 and .274 in 2020, while his Whiff rate on both pitches improved. Looking at his sinker numbers specifically, we see a really big discrepancy in his xwOBA and his actual wOBA in 2020, a sign of short season randomness, especially when taking into account that his Hard Hit rate improved by 13.6 percent.

2021 Outlook

Given that there is no preoccupying increase in low BABIP balls (like infield flies for example), his BABIP decrease looks to be more short season randomness than anything. It seems that if Lady Luck doesn’t do a number on Gio next year and he manages to keep the newfound plate discipline, we are gonna be looking at a 140-145 wRC+ in 2021 (2020 DJ LeMahieu territory for example!!!). 

If we couple those hitting accolades with his better error prevention in 2020 which led to better defensive advanced stats (6 defensive runs saved last year by both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference), we are looking at possibly a very special season from Gio. Very much looking forward to it! 

P.S. please Boone if you read this, just hit him higher in the order 😀

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9 Comments

  1. Nice writing, I really like all those numbers !

    Is it possible that the decrease of his babip can also be explained by the decrease of his hard hit ball percentage (even if he has increased his exit velocity)?

  2. Steve W

    Nice writeup! I think the stat that best sums up Gio’s amazing improvement is that he’s had 6.0 WAR the last two seasons, and that brings his career WAR up to 4.8.

  3. Esteban Valles

    Great Job Jaime!! Looking forward to read some more stats from you throughout the season!!

  4. DanGer

    Nice work, Jaime – look forward to reading more!

    Maybe I’m cynical but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean he went from being WORSE than Ronald Torreyes (ages 23-26)…

    Torreyes (624 PA).278/.306/.369
    Urshela (499 PA) .225/.274/.315

    …to basically Trea Turner minus the speed.

    Urshela (650 PA) .310/.358/.523
    Turner (career) .296/.353/.480

    Side note – how the hell is Turner gonna be 28 this year??

    • Jaime Acevedo

      Thanks for the kind word! It is an amazing turnover by Gio hahahaha, but it is backed by the quality of contact numbers so i’m willing to bet is legit

      • Troy

        I was really skeptical after 2019 and generally take 2020 with a grain of slat but he is looking legit.

  5. Why did Gio have a relatively small number of plate appearances – what’s his injury history? I think his hitting improvements are amazing, props to Marcus Thames. But I’m not so sure Gio should hit that high in the batting order – sure, put him in front of Sanchez, but Frazier is more of a home run hitter, Hicks can bat LH, and then you have DJLM/Judge/Stanton/Voit/Gleyber… oh, the lineup is so stacked!

    • Jaime Acevedo

      For sure it’s some amazing job by Yankees Development Team, Thames and i think PJ Pillittere helped him out in AAA in 2019 as well. He’s had some injuries hera and there like the groin one last year and he didnt start the season with the MLB team in 2019: I think for sure he has to bat ahead of Gary and Gardy (if he plays), and there are strong arguments for him hitting in front of Gleyber and maybe Frazier if he doesnt keep his 2020 level, but yeah the lineup is STACKED

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