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Gio Urshela needs to keep hitting line drives for the Yankees

As pitchers make adjustments, Urshela must continue to hit line drives like he did earlier this season.

New York Mets v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It’s difficult not to get used to certain aspects of a baseball team during the lengthy regular season. For the Yankees, there have been several players who exceeded expectations, and that became the norm: you got called and you performed, or you were acquired and you performed.

When something disrupts that consistent trend, though, it’s also easy to take notice of what’s missing. In this case, major league pitchers have started making adjustments against Gio Urshela. In general, they decided to not offer him a pitch he was performing well against. The established norm of Urshela simply hitting everything that came his way has started to fade.

Until May 18, Urshela was seeing 57.5% fastballs and 36.0% breaking balls. Since May 19, he has seen 49.2% fastballs and 43.2% breaking balls, closing the gap from earlier in the season to six percent.

Along with a change in pitches faced, Urshela has started showing a different batted ball profile. His line drive percentage went from 31.4% until May 18 to 21.3% after. Considering Urshela has an expected batting average of .646 when he hits line drives, this is not a stat he wants to see drop significantly. He still does rank 15th overall with a 27.2% line-drive rate, but he was in the top five as of May 18. He’s also hit many more fly balls, raising his fly-ball rate to 41.0% from 27.9%.

The whole league is trying to hit fly balls more than ever before. It has helped a lot of players, with Gary Sanchez as a great example, posting an expected batting average of .430 against fly balls. Compare that to Urshela, whose xBA is .276. Fly balls aren’t for everyone, or at least they haven’t been for Urshela. Line drives have been his bread and butter, but since May 19, he has not been able to hit many against fastballs.

Change in Urshela’s line drive percentage

Dates Fastballs against Line Drives vs. Fastballs Line Drive% off All Fastballs Fastballs put in play Line Drive% off Fastballs put in play
Dates Fastballs against Line Drives vs. Fastballs Line Drive% off All Fastballs Fastballs put in play Line Drive% off Fastballs put in play
4/6-5/18 241 20 8.30% 54 37.00%
5/19-6/11 160 2 1.25% 28 7.14%

Overall, Urshela’s numbers against fastballs have seen a drastic drop. His xBA against fastballs went from .387 to .291. A hundred-point difference does cause some concern, but it’s expected once you consider his marked decrease in liners. What’s compounding matters for Urshela is that he has run into poor fortune on top of all this, considering his average and expected batting average statistics differ by 69 points. Only 14 players in major league baseball have been less fortunate against fastballs than Urshela in this span.

With the decrease in fastballs seen and the subsequent rise in breaking pitches, Urshela has seen a drop of his expected batting average against breaking balls from .301 to .281. That difference is minor compared to the .099 difference seen against fastballs. Overall, major league batters are hitting for an expected batting average of .277 against fly balls, while line drives have an expected batting average of .623.

Urshela once again needs to find a way to start hitting line drives. As of May 18, he was a 143 wRC+ hitter, with a 93 wRC+ after. Pitchers have made an adjustment against him, and it’s time for him to adjust back. Shocking as it may seem, watching Urshela play at an average level hasn’t been the norm, and hopefully it won’t be going forward.