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:
|Year||Pitch Type||RV/100||Pitch %||wOBA||xwOBA||Whiff%||Hard Hit %|
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.
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 😀