Inside the numbers on Urshela’s improvements

By Joe Conklin

A couple of weeks ago, Yankees third baseman Giovanny Urshela was facing hard-throwing Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler in the fourth inning of a Subway Series matchup. On an 0-1 pitch, Urshela crushed a 96-MPH four-seam fastball on the inner-third. He hit it 405 feet with an exit velocity (per Statcast) of 105.7 MPH.

That home run wasn’t just helpful in a Yankees’ comeback win. It showed how far Urshela has come.

Urshela has been performing well above his career numbers so far this year at the plate. In looking at the causes of his success at the plate, here are some interesting numbers I uncovered.

Urshela has the reputation of a great defender and a below-average hitter. In 2015 and 2017, which are comparable in at bats and games to this year, his batting average was .225 and .224 respectively.

Through Sunday, his batting average this season is .306. In some of the advanced stats he is also outperforming his 2015 and 2017 results by a lot.

Urshela’s BABIP (batting average on ball in play) is .336, almost 100 points higher this year than his 2015 and 2017 years.

Why the drastic increase in BABIP? Urshela’s hard and soft contact percentage have drastically changed this year.

Probably the most telling statistic for his offensive increase is Urshela’s hard-contact percentage (Hard%). This is the percentage of time that a hitter makes hard contact on a batted ball. In 2015 and 2017, his hard-hit percentage was 22% and 24% respectively.

In 2019, his rate of batted balls that are hard hit is 46%, over a 20-point increase from the previous comparable years. The batting average for all of baseball for Hard% contact is .526.

His soft contact percentage (Soft%, which how often one of his batted balls was hit with low velocity and an unfavorable landing spot) in 2015 and 2017 was about 20%. Soft contact usually always ends in an out for the batter — the batting average for Soft% is .153 for all of Major League Baseball in 2019.

In 2019, Urshela’s Soft% in is 8%, both a dramatic decrease from previous seasons and the lowest in the majors this season.

Pairing his increase in Hard% with his decrease in Soft%, it makes sense he’s gotten better results.

Urshela is also outperforming his previous year’s results on fastballs as well as pitches that are on the inner third of the strike zone.

His average and slugging percentage are over 100 points higher than his 2017 and 2015 years.

 

2015 2017 2019
BA/Slug Pct vs Fastballs .216/.306 .267/.320 .342/.507
BA/Slug Pct vs Inside Pitches .261/.326 .220/.322 .346/.654

One interesting statistic that is unusual for major league hitters is that Urshela has been quite good when he’s behind in the count (as he was versus Wheeler).

For example, he’s hitting .319 with three home runs in at-bats that end with counts of 0-1 (as the homer versus Wheeler was) or 1-2. He was a .207 hitter in those counts prior to this season.

In the past, Urshela has been known largely for his glove, but this season his bat his outperformed his mitt. In fact, he’s at -3 Defensive Runs Saved this season, slightly below average for a third baseman. The perception of Urshela as a great defender may be due to a few terrific plays. But overall, he has not shown the success of an elite fielder, like Matt Chapman or Nolan Arenado.

However, if Urshela continues to hit the ball as hard as he has so far this season, he will continue to fill the void left at 3B when the Yankees lost Miguel Andujar for the season.

Even with his -3 DRS he will still be an upgrade over Andujar who had a -25 DRS in 2018 and possibly provide just as much value with the bat.

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