By now, we all know that Gio Urshela has stunningly become a valuable player to the Yankees. Against all odds, the formerly all-glove, no-bat minor league third baseman now has the hit tool to match his terrific fielding.
In 2020, Urshela cemented himself as one of the Yankees’ best players. He finished third on the team in both major calculations of WAR, was second in RBI, fourth in OPS, fourth in wRC+ and led the team in FanGraphs’ defensive rating and DRS. That’s more than just a good find off the waiver wire – that’s one of the team’s most valuable contributors!
We’ve done deep dives into Urshela before, but the extent of his offensive growth (and how he’s done it) is worth pointing out again. This is where Urshela ranked leaguewide in various offensive metrics (courtesy Baseball Savant):
Urshela improved across the board in 2020. His exit velocity climbed even higher, his strikeout and whiff rates were downright stingy, and he even doubled his walk rate. Urshela will be 29 next year, and although he has been the ultimate late bloomer, he probably can’t improve much more than this.
That’s OK though, because Urshela has already climbed into the upper MLB echelon at third base. Third base is one of the deepest positions in baseball, and one that’s hard to win without an elite talent at. Over the last two years though, Urshela has proven that he belongs in the top-10 conversation.
In 2020, he was tied for the fourth-best WAR among third basemen, was sixth in wRC+, had the fourth-most defensive runs saved, and was third in RZR. If we expand that to the last two years, Urshela is 13th in WAR, fourth in wRC+, has the sixth-most defensive runs saved and is sixth in RZR at the hot corner. These are some of the preeminent metrics used to quantify offensive and defensive value and compare to other players, and Urshela has come out in near-elite standing in all of them for two years running. He may not seem to be in the Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman, Justin Turner class to outsiders, but the numbers show he has been one of the most valuable third basemen in baseball since 2019.
An obvious difference between Urshela and the rest of the elite is salary. Urshela is just entering his first year of arbitration eligibility this year at age-29, and won’t hit free agency for three more years. Because he was a late bloomer and because MLB’s system of club control restricts player salary during players’ first years in the majors, it’s likely that Urshela will never earn the money he truly deserves – his first big-time contract could come at age 32 when he will already be on the decline. I am not one to advocate for the Yankees willingly cutting payroll, but having such elite production at such a low price for Urshela is certainly a plus for the team moving forward.
The bigger takeaway here is that Urshela has become an undisputed part of the team’s core moving forward. That core (at least offensively) was thought to be Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sánchez, but there are varying levels of uncertainty around all three players at the moment. The team’s other most valuable offensive player, DJ LeMahieu, is a free agent. Improbably, Urshela is now a vital part of the Yankees moving forward in 2021. The team is full of wild cards and unanswered questions, but Urshela has become the rare consistent contributor.
To other teams, Gio Urshela may still just be that guy the Yankees got off the scrap heap who can play defense and hit with a little pop. That’s not accurate anymore, though. Urshela is a guy to circle in the lineup, someone who can and will beat other teams, and a long-term member of the Yankees’ core group.