Gio Urshela was perhaps the biggest surprise in the New York Yankees’ 2019 season. He played adequate defense at the hot corner, and he slashed .314/.355/.534 with a .369 wOBA and a 132 wRC+. Those are amazing numbers from such an unexpected source.
Urshela even managed to hit 21 home runs, drive in 74 runs and score 73 in 476 plate appearances. He helped the Yankees avoid disaster when Miguel Andujar was forced out with injury for an extended period of time.
However, the question remains: how sustainable was Urshela’s offensive performance? Will he be able to adjust to what pitchers have in store for him after having a whole offseason (and more) to study his weaknesses?
Digging into the numbers
At first glance, we look at Urshela’s .349 BABIP and see it is more than a bit high. Still, it may be sustainable to some extent given that he upped his average exit velocity to 90.5 mph (76th percentile) after being in the 85-87 mph neighborhood for all of his career. He also hit the ball hard more frequently (40.6 percent hard-hit rate.)
His .294 expected batting average was in the 92nd percentile, proving that while his final .314 mark was somewhat bit inflated, he can comfortably finish somewhere between .290 and .300.
While he doesn’t draw a whole lot of walks (5.3%) Urshela also doesn’t strike out very often (18.3%). He is a different type of hitter than the rest of the lineup, which is a good thing because he requires a different approach.
We know that he can hit a fastball: he had a .332 batting average and a .597 slugging against the pitch in 2019. He even feasted on changeups, to the tune of a .322 average and a .508 slugging. But what about breaking balls?
Baseball Savant tells us that Urshela hit .286 and slugged .455 against breaking balls. That’s decent, right? Well, we used Brooks Baseball to separate said breaking balls and judge curveballs and sliders separately. Urshela hit .367 with a .533 slugging percentage versus the hook, but he struggled with sliders to some extent, as his .219 and .385 marks attest.
According to Brooks Baseball, right handers threw Urshela 37% fastballs, 13% sinkers, 6% cutters, 25% sliders, 12% curveballs, 4% changeups and 2% splitters. I would imagine that they will try to mix in some more sliders, and the Yankees’ infielder may need to show that he can hit them consistently.
The starting third baseman
Aaron Boone has said that the third base job is Urshela’s to lose, and while the Yankees also have Miguel Andujar (and other infielders capable of playing third) on the roster, it would appear that the team wants Andujar to take a super-utility role in the corners, leaving the hot corner primarily to the 28-year-old 2019 revelation.
It is unclear, as of now, what kind of schedule will be in place for the season. To be fair, it is unclear if there will be a season to begin with. But Urshela’s true talent at the plate will be tested if baseball is played in 2020. He has the goods to produce at a similar level he did last year. Will 2019 be a career year for him, or will he take it up a notch?