Gio Urshela was nearly unstoppable at the plate in the month of August. The 27-year-old third baseman batted .385 last month, blasting seven home runs and driving in 18 runs in the process. Urshela experienced his best month of the 2019 season, but went down with a left groin injury running out a groundball against the Mariners on August 28. Urshela returned from a short IL stint on September 8, but he has struggled since, to the tune of a .214 batting average and 67 wRC+. With the playoffs quickly approaching, should the Yankees be concerned by Urshela’s recent struggles?
In 45 plate appearances since his return from the IL, Urshela’s hitting fly balls 3.2% more frequently and hitting 4.7% less line drives, according to FanGraphs. With that decrease in line drives comes a decline in BABIP from .336 to .226. Urshela’s also struggling to pull the ball with the same authority he did in August, a month in which he posted a 47.5% pull percentage (36.4% in September). With that being said, the Yankees can be optimistic about his ability to make hard contact, a good sign that it’s simply a timing issue he’s battling right now. Urshela’s hard contact rate over the past 13 games is only two percentage points down from the rest of the season and his 12.1% soft contact rate during that stretch is actually an improvement over his 13% rate the rest of the year.
A deeper dive into Urshela’s Statcast metrics shows that his primary issue in the month of September is his handling of opposing pitcher’s fastballs. After posting an exit velocity greater than 91.5 mph against fastballs every month this season, Urshela owns a 89.2 exit velocity in September. The result is a .235 xSLG against fastballs, a huge decrease from the .576 xSLG he posted against fastballs in August. His handling of offspeed pitches has been even worse, given its a small sample size. Urshela’s 3-for-14 against fastballs and 0-for-5 against offspeed pitches in September, and he’s yet to leave the yard since his return from the IL.
The bottom line is, Urshela is going to play a big role on the Yankees playoff roster, regardless of whether he finds his groove during the final five games of the regular season. However, the Yankees do have plenty of options if they believe there are lingering effects from his groin injury. The Yankees’ playoff lineup as it stands now would leave one odd-man-out from the infield group, and the Yankees could easily slide DJ LeMahieu over to third base, putting Luke Voit at first and making Urshela a late-game defensive replacement or pinch-hitter.
It’s worth noting Urshela has performed better against right-handers (148 wRC+) than left-handers (119 wRC+) this season, but has struggled mightily against them since his return from the IL (31 wRC+), further complicated some of Aaron Boone’s lineup decisions. Urshela can’t really be viewed as a specialist, as his lefty/righty splits have varied month to month and throughout his career.
At this point in the season it’s hard to envision the Yankees making Urshela a platoon player, as he’s had such a major impact since April and a few bad weeks don’t erase an entire season of work. It’s much more likely that the Yankees will continue to lean on Urshela’s tremendous defense at third every night and hope he can get his rhythm back and finish his breakout season on a high note this postseason.