CC Sabathia said it best when he described the confidence the team has in Gio Urshela with his famous “turn off the lights” quote. It’s true, the 27-year old journeyman has been nothing short of a revelation for the Yankees this season, especially as he has filled in admirably for the injured Miguel Andujar at third.
After his performance Sunday night, his season batting line is up to .314/.359/.522 which is good for a 129 wRC+. He has been on fire lately, and currently holds the longest hitting streak in the AL at 11 games. And on Sunday night, he showed once again he is most definitely a Yankee by homering off everyone’s favorite pitcher, David Price.
Never in a million years would I have guessed that Gio Urshela would be hitting 437 foot home runs for the Yankees in 2019. That shot had an exit velocity of 107 mph and an almost perfect launch angle of 26 degrees. What is interesting though, is how he has turned it around after a rough June. Back then, myself and other writers were calling for reduced playing time for him.
Here is a look at his splits by month which shows how great he started, when he cooled off, and his current resurgence:
You can see the swoon in June and how since the calendar switched to July, Gio has absolutely turned it up to another level. In the past month or so, he is hitting well over .330 an slugging in the .600s! He hit 5 home runs in July alone when before this season, he had hit 11 total. That is absolutely bonkers. Over the course of the season, even his Statcast profile is encouraging.
His exit velocity is in the 79th percentile and his xwOBA and xSLG are both over the 85th percentile. For the non-stat nerds, basically that means he is hitting the ball hard and we should expect his results to continue being strong.
Another way to see how he has come on strong lately is his rolling xwOBA chart. These data tell us based on the batted ball data, how well we should expect Gio to be hitting.
This chart looks exactly how we would expect which is great for a few reasons. First, it helps confirm that Gio is no fluke. What he is doing now is based on his skills and performance and not just luck. Secondly, we can see the time period in which he was not doing so well.
What I take away from this is Gio started hot, pitchers caught up to him and he struggled. But he has now found a way to mash again. That is the true test to help tell if someone is a flash in the plan like Shelly Duncan or the real deal. Once pitchers adjust, can you adjust back? It’s clear Gio has.
How has he done it
In looking at Gio’s other metrics, a couple things stood out to me. First was the type of contact he was making. Here is a graph with his rolling wOBA overlayed with his hard and soft hit rates.
This graphs shows us a number of things. In the beginning of the year, Gio’s hard hit rate started to increase right along with his wOBA. Once we get into June and July, you can see the wOBA start to drop which is then followed by a decrease in hard hit rate and an increase in soft hit rate.
Basically, Gio stopped hitting the ball hard and his performance suffered. Right around game 70, you see the hard and soft hit rates converge, and then the hard hit rate goes up and the soft hit rate goes down. That can explain this recent performance – an uptick in making hard contact with a decrease in making soft contact. That’ll do all day and also explains the recent power surge. Understanding how he made that change is harder to figure out, but here is one possibility:
This chart shows his rolling wOBA along with his rolling Z-contact% which tells us of Gio’s swings on pitches in the zone, how often is he making contact. Look how closely the lines overlap! The better Gio is at making contact in the zone, the better his performance. Over the past couple weeks, Gio has been making contact on over 95% of his swings in the zone which is unsustainable, but if he can maintain that number between 85-90%, he should continue to be golden.
Gio has become a cult hero for Yankee fans this season, and this was never more evident than Sunday after somehow fouling balls off both his legs in the same at-bat, the crowd chanted “GIO! GIO! GIO!” Based on how he’s adjusted to MLB pitching, there’s reason to believe the crowd will be chanting that through an October run.