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Does Gio Urshela make Miguel Andujar expendable?

I don’t think anybody who said Gio Urshela was for real in April and May believed it themselves. (I was a massive skeptic. Yet here I am.) Nobody could have, given his track record. Looking back, while the results of what they said were correct, their thoughts were probably chalked up more to recency bias than anything else. The longer Gio hits the way he does though, the more the idea that he’s for real becomes a rational thought. You can make the case for it, being we’re at the deadline and he’s still going.

So what do we do with Miggy?

Look, I love Miguel Andujar. I personally hated every trade rumor involving him during the winter. The thing is, these are different times. Urshela has not slowed down, and this very special Yankee team is in desperate need of starting pitchers. It wouldn’t shock me if the Yankees went on to trade Miggy for an arm in order to put a deal over the top. It’d probably be even more rotten than what they did to Dustin Fowler, since Miggy was a key component of this team in 2018. Unfortunately, however, if the Yankees are truly in the business of getting rings, they might feel this is the only way to set themselves ahead of Houston for a deal. If Gio is truly as good as he has been – and I do think he is – trading Miggy will soften that blow. It would hurt, but we know there is a guy in the wake to fill in that corner infield spot in the future.

So Gio is awesome

It dawned on me on Sunday night how great Urshela’s season has been, after he hit a rocket off of Chris Sale. His scorching liner that went for a double surely put a dent in that rancid-looking Green Monster.

On a night when the Yankees desperately needed a win, Gio went two for three against Boston’s ace. Every ball he put in play was absolutely smoked too. This is how Statcast calculated his at-bats against Sale, a guy whose contact generally goes for an average exit velocity of 87.9 MPH:

1st At-Bat: 97 MPH, Flyout, 379 feet

2nd At-Bat: 92.3 MPH, Double, 372 feet

3rd At-Bat: 102.1 MPH, 418 feet

Here’s why this small sample size is cool (I guess Sale is still good.)

For one, Chris Sale terrorized the Yankees in 2018, so his name still stings. Also, the perception of Sale having a down year isn’t really what it seems because he is still elite. Two separate metrics of earned run averages that are more in his control tell a different story than his traditional ERA. Sale has a 3.41 FIP* and a stellar 3.02 Skills Interactive ERA* (SIERA).

FIP is similar to ERA, but it focuses solely on the events a pitcher has the most control over — strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. It entirely removes results on balls hit into the field of play. – From MLB.com

SIERA: A more advanced version of tERA, SIERA is meant to remove the volatility of ERA, while also allowing for the notion that balls in play are somewhat in the control of the pitcher. It also weaves together different aspects of pitching. So walks are a bit less harmful to pitchers who induce ground balls at a high rate, as ground-ball pitchers are more likely than fly-ball pitchers to have a walk erased by a subsequent double play. – From MLB.com

Chris Sale, the all-time leader in K’s per 9 (11.0) and K’s per BB (5.32), has continued to be elite in both those categories this year. He’s currently second in K’s per 9 by a small margin (13.19 to Gerrit Cole’s 13.28) and 9th in K’s per BB (5.40), sandwiched between the Biebs in Cleveland and fellow future HOFer Clayton Kershaw.

Despite all this, Gio had no fear. He took him to the woodshed the way he has everyone else. (And in case you’re wondering… Yes… I did just gas up Chris Sale’s resume in order to show how important Urshela slaying him was.)

Paging Dr. Spin… Paging Dr. Spin…

THERE ARE CHANGES IN URSHELA

One thing to look at is just how dramatically Urshela has changed at the plate. His flirtation with a .300 average for most of the year doesn’t seem like it’s been an accident. Look at how he’s become a more complete player this year, after a few years of floundering around the AL:

This year:

2019: 16.2 K% / 5.7 BB% / 39.8 Hard Hit % / 90.4 AVG Exit Velocity (His .303 Expected Batting Average is in the Top 3% of the league.)

Other years:

2018: 39.8 K% / 4.3 BB% / 30.3% Hard Hit % / 85.7 Avg Exit Velocity

2017: 13.3 K% / 4.8 BB% / 27.4 Hard Hit% / 87.0 AVG Exit Velocity

2015: 20.1 K% / 6.3 BB% / 34.3 Hard Hit% / 87.0 AVG Exit Velocity

The K rate is down and the walk rate is up. He’s absolutely smoking balls the way he did with Sale on Sunday. We can chalk this up to the Marcus Thames special.

More improvements in Gio’s game

The last season during which Urshela had significant plate appearances (165) was in 2017 with Cleveland. He obviously has a larger sample size this year, but it’s interesting to see the difference in how he takes fastballs, breaking balls, and off-speed pitches. He was always a decent fastball hitter, but it’s his ability to make contact on those other pitches that’s just another example of why Gio might be for real.

2019:

FASTBALLS: 56.9% seen / .338 AVG / 10.5 K% / 9.2 BB%

BREAKING: 34.5% seen / .280 AVG / 23.2 K% / 1.8 BB%

OFF-SPEED: 8.6% seen / .269 AVG / 17.2 K% / 3.4 BB%

 

2017:

FASTBALLS: 56.1% seen / .274 AVG / 12.1 K% / 6.6 BB%

BREAKING: 32.3% seen / .156 AVG / 14.9 K% / 4.3 BB%

OFF-SPEED: 11.7% seen / .185 AVG / 14.8 K% / 0 BB% 

Defense (I mean, we get it… He’s better than Andujar…)

Fangraphs will tell you Gio Urshela is a negative defender. (-1.7 Defensive fWAR, -5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at 3rd). To that, I’ll quote Dr. Scott Reinen and his thoughts on defensive metrics:

Maybe Gio Urshela is a negative defender, or maybe Scott is correct in saying that defensive metrics are oftentimes bunk? Maybe, in a world where the Mets ruined everything by acquiring Marcus Stroman, an infinite number of paradoxes were created and both of these statements are correct? Whatever the case might be, as great as Andujar’s bat was last year, he was a defensive liability for sure. That hot stick masked his issues, but when you look at them alone, his defense is a glaring hole.

If you care about defensive metrics, here are a few of them:

-15.5 Defensive fWAR

-25 DRS

-16.0 UZR*

*UZR: Accounts for arm, range, double plays and errors

If he didn’t make up for it with his bat and the Yanks didn’t devour a home run record, his defense could have been more detrimental to the season than it was. Even if Gio Urshela is technically a negative defender, to that I say so what. One, it’s an absolute upgrade regardless. Two, he has made so many awesome plays that neared on impossible, that you really have to appreciate what he’s brought to the table as a third baseman.

And don’t forget the outfield…

I don’t have a definitive answer on whether I think the Yankees should trade Miggy because Gio Urshela is here. Some might. Personally, I don’t. All I’m hoping for is that the Yankees do the best they can to optimize this team. If it means trading Miggy then, meh, so be it. If they can pull a miracle and make a deal to the scale of Edwin Encarnacion – give up nothing for something – which is probably an impossible feat given the way this pitching market looks to be evolving, with so many bidders and so few key acquisitions to snag – I would absolutely prefer that.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that beggars can’t be choosers. The Yanks might have to overspend. Miggy could be the component that puts the Yanks over the top. I’d get it. Still, it would suck to see another young player sent away while he’s injured. Especially one who saved our ass just a year ago.

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