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Is 2019 Gio Urshela for real?

Gio Urshela broke out in 2019. The 28-year-old hit .314 in 476 plate appearances (132 games) with 21 homers and 74 RBI. That translates to about 22.67 PA/HR. This came from a guy who hit a total of 8 home runs over 499 plate appearances during his previous seasons in the majors. That’s a 62.38 PA/HR rate. He also played a great third base. While he was an overall 0 outs above average (OAA), he did make some pretty plays at the hot corner throughout the season. In contrast, his biggest competitor at third Miguel Andujar put up a -11 OAA at third in 2018. So Urshela has the leg up in that category. But can Gio sustain his augmented hit tool?

Compared to his rookie year in 2015, Urshela changed his stance by lowering his hands and opening up a bit. He’s also focused more on using his legs. It’s safe to say the changes have helped.

He compiled a -0.7 fWAR in his career before posting a 3.1 fWAR in 2019. Also, check out his wRC+ over his career:

Year wRC+ FanGraphs Classification
2015 65 Awful/Poor
2017 41 Awful
2018 67 Awful/Poor
2019 132 Above Average/Great

Urshela led the Yankees in 2019 with 34 doubles. He was also in the top eight percent in the league with a .294 XBA. One reason why is because of his hard-hit rate. His previous career-high was 34.3 percent in 2015 — it was 40.6 percent in 2019. And he was fairly consistent, as his hard-hit rate each month was above his 2015 mark. This also led to his barrel percentage rising from 6.1 to 7.0 percent and his exit velocity moving from 85.7 to 90.5 MPH. All of those marks were above league-average. 

Let’s take a look at all of Urshela’s expected stats against his actual stats:

Expected 0.294 0.505 0.353
Actual 0.314 0.534 0.369

His actual numbers are a little higher, but not by much. If he were to regress to the expected numbers, he’d still be a very good hitter.

In terms of hitting affinity, here are the top five players who were similar to Urshela in 2019:

Player Match (1.0 is exact)
Charlie Blackmon 0.83
Jordy Mercer 0.81
Miguel Cabrera 0.80
Travis d’Arnaud 0.77
J.T. Realmuto 0.77

That’s not terrible company. 

You can see by the below graph that Urshela’s had very good months in May and August in terms of wRC+, but even in his down times he was still hitting that ball hard.

All of this leads me to believe that the 2020 (or 2021) Gio Urshela will be closer to his 2019 self than his 2015-2018 self.