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Gio Urshela may be breaking out of his funk

Grounders and strikeouts have tarnished Urshela’s 2021, but he’s starting to show some positive signs in the batter’s box.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s not the disaster that some people pretend it is, the Yankees’ offense has certainly seen better days. There is confidence within the organization that they will turn things around eventually, but the last couple of weeks have been a struggle.

One of the Yankees’ steadiest hitters, Gio Urshela, has been slumping for a while, too. Perhaps somewhat limited by his nagging knee issue that may not be completely in the rearview mirror, he has a .179/.207/.393 line with a home run and a 1/9 BB/K ratio in his last seven games, and a .193/.246/.316 with a 4/18 BB/K ratio in his last 15 contests.

That production is uncharacteristically low for someone with Urshela’s standards. Remember, he might have been one of 2019’s biggest surprises, but after slashing .314/.355/.534 with a 132 wRC+ in his breakout, he maintained a strong bat with a .298/.368/.490 triple slash in 2020 that was accompanied by a 133 wRC+.

Part of the reason why Urshela hasn’t been inflicting too much damage as of late has been his increasing tendency to hit ground balls. For the season, he has 1.73 worm-killers for every fly ball, which would easily be a career-high. His 48.5 groundball percentage (before yesterday’s game) is also the highest of his six-year MLB tenure.

Urshela, however, has been showing signs of turning things around this week. Here, we can see how he has performed in the four games against the Tampa Bay Rays:

Monday: 70 mph groundout, 106 mph lineout, 99.2 mph groundout, 104.4 mph lineout

Tuesday: 80.3 mph single, 86.8 mph flyout, 84.8 mph lineout, 101.3 mph flyout, strikeout

Wednesday: 103.4 mph home run, 95 mph double, two strikeouts

Thursday: 65.3 mph groundout, 82.2 mph double, two strikeouts

It is worth noting that Urshela’s strikeout rate on the season is, unfortunately, the highest of his career at 23.7 percent. That is significantly higher than last year’s 14.4-percent mark. The figure should come down eventually, as his 11.9 swinging strike rate is on par with 2019, albeit higher than 2020’s 8.4.

Aside from Monday’s game, Urshela has been whiffing quite a bit this week, especially Wednesday and Thursday. But he also may be starting to come around at the plate given the quality of some of his connections. He still has some work to do, but there are some hard-hit lineouts and flies there. It’s important for him to get into a groove, as the Yankees could really use a hot bat right now.

Urshela should, eventually, be fine, and there is statistical evidence that will be the case. For starters, we have the abnormally high strikeout rate. It may not be in the low teens, but it will likely not be 23 percent either. Additionally, Urshela is actually making plenty of hard contact in the season. His 43.2-percent hard hit rate would be the highest of his career, as would his 10.6 barrel percentage. Barrels aren’t everything, but they do tell he is making good contact.

Urshela’s .341 expected weighted on base average, or xwOBA, is significantly better than his .316 actual wOBA. He has been a tad unlucky given the quantity and quality of contact made to this point.

All in all, everything comes down to grounders and strikeouts. His 2021 average launch angle, 6.5 degrees, is considerably lower than what he had in 2020 (12.43 degrees) and 2019 (13.5 degrees). Urshela is a good enough hitter to sort these things out, and he may be taking the first steps.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are as of the end of play on Wednesday, June 3rd.