The 2021 MLB season is barely over a week old, so no stat line carries too much legitimacy at this point. The Yankees’ offense as a whole has been inconsistent, and third baseman Gio Urshela is among the bats that started the year somewhat cold.
After Saturday’s game, Urshela has 6 hits in 26 at-bats, “good” for a .231/.259/.269 line, one walk and six strikeouts. Again, it’s extremely early, but that line pales in comparison with the .314/.355/.534 he had in 2019 and the .298/.368/.490 he finished with in 2020. The third baseman missed a game this week after experiencing some side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, but he already made his return and went 0-for-3 on Saturday.
When talking about Urshela specifically, we have an additional situation to consider when evaluating his performance during the first week – besides the obvious small sample size warning – and it is his offseason elbow surgery. He underwent surgery on December 4th to have bone chips removed from his right elbow. At one point, his recovery time was expected to eat some of his playing time during spring training, but that wasn’t the case, as he made his debut on March 4th.
For most players, spring training was about getting their timing and rhythm back after several months of inactivity. For Urshela, it was mostly about testing his arm and getting comfortable with throwing the ball, swinging a bat, and performing baseball activities without aggravating his injury and starting the process all over again.
So it’s understandable, even logical, that he isn’t showing his best version out there on the field. The Yankees should be patient and know that the vintage Gio Urshela will probably arrive, with a little time and reps.
So far, the numbers suggest that the third baseman is struggling with two areas directly associated with his elbow: power and throwing strength. He has no home runs in the regular season (after hitting only one in spring training, with a .150/.171/.300 slash line) and, according to MLB Network, his throwing speed had decreased from 82.3 mph to 77.6 mph prior to the weekend’s games.
Gio Urshela, who underwent offseason elbow surgery, has struggled so far at the plate (4-for-18). According to @mlbnetwork, his arm strength at third base has dropped (from 82.3 MPH to 77.6 MPH).— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 7, 2021
Think of Urshela as if he is still warming up and getting his feet wet. He is 100 percent, but he needs to take at-bats in order to get his timing back. His real “spring training,” — at least for the purpose of getting ready and in top baseball shape — likely will take place over the first few weeks of the season.
The decrease in arm strength could be small sample noise, or the fact that he hasn’t needed to really test it. With time, we could start seeing the average slowly creep back closer to 82 mph. However, the most important thing is that he has looked good out there at the hot corner, and there hasn’t been a single play in which a lack of arm strength has affected him.
Understanding the context behind early season stat lines, in this case, helps us understand that Gio Urshela will probably be fine, once he finds his timing and rhythm at the plate and slowly regains confidence in his throwing arm. That could take a few more days, or even weeks, but in the end, it will be worth it because he is by far the Yankees’ best option at third base, both offensively and defensively.