After posting consecutive seasons with a 132 and a 133 wRC+ in 2019 and 2020, it’s not hard to be disappointed at Gio Urshela’s overall offensive performance in 2021. Fans will point to the fact that he has been far from the disciplined, sneaky dangerous hitter that he was in those two campaigns, and they would be correct to do so.
Before Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the infielder was hitting .267/.302/.418 with 14 home runs and a 96 wRC+ in 431 plate appearances. That slash line looks light at all three levels, especially in the on-base and slugging departments.
A 96 wRC+ indicates slightly below-average offensive production. And it has certainly felt like it: a .720 OPS is mediocre, as is his 4.6-percent walk rate. Additionally, Urshela is striking out more than ever before, 25.1 percent of the time to be exact.
But Urshela’s bat does appear to be coming around at long last. Over his last 15 games, he is hitting .345/.368/.527 with three home runs and a 146 wRC+. For some reason, he is still allergic to walks (3.5 percent walk rate over that span), but his 17.5-percent strikeout rate and .182 isolated power are much more in line with 2019 and 2020.
Here is his xwOBA rolling chart for 2021:
Urshela hit rock bottom on September 12th, but he has been crawling out of that for a few days now. While this is still a tiny 15-game sample, it could be the beginning of something. It’s possible that after recent injuries, he could be starting to hit his stride just in time for the final series and potentially, the playoffs.
Urshela’s good stretch at the plate coincides with fellow 2021 disappointment Gleyber Torres, and together, both infielders have contributed a lot in the last 15 games. Having Gio and Gleyber producing is crucial for the Yankees at a time in which first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit is out and DJ LeMahieu is banged up.
It’s nice to have some offensive production from the shortstop position, too. For months, Torres failed to get going at the plate, and when he didn’t play because of injuries, Andrew Velazquez usually spelled him. Between Gleyber’s struggles (he has a .701 OPS for the year), and Velazquez’s own limitations (.621 OPS in 2021, .534 for his career), the Yankees have received well below-average production from the position.
Yankees shortstops have hit .260/.329/.360 in 2021 (yes, that’s a .100 ISO) and rank 19th out of 30 teams with a 92 wRC+. Then, manager Aaron Boone shuffled the infield around a little over two weeks ago, taking Torres out of short because of his defensive limitations, sending him to second base, Urshela to short, and LeMahieu to the hot corner.
It’s probably just a fun coincidence, but both Urshela and Torres have been hitting better since the infield shuffle. In any case, and for at least the last 15 games, the Yankees are actually enjoying some production from their starting shortstop.
It’s important to point out the fact that Urshela is not a natural shortstop, and the experiment isn’t expected to last beyond 2021. He is better than Torres there, though, and actually has 2 OAA, or Outs Above Average, compared to -4 at third.
For now, the important takeaway is that Urshela seems to getting comfortable at the plate. Those 15 games have seen him score 10 runs, drive in seven, and regain confidence in himself and his abilities. It’s puzzling that his walk rate is in the bottom three-percent of the league, and it would be wonderful if he could start getting more free bases, but the Yankees will gladly take this recent version of Urshela over the punchless, hapless one he had been showcasing this year.