Any New York Yankees fan can tell you that Gio Urshela was a godsend this 2019 campaign. He was what you needed at third base, a brick wall. He, more often than not, would make MLB networks Web Gems segment with his stellar defense. Many universally agree he’s better defensively than Miguel Andujar, even Brian Cashman proclaiming “third is Urshela’s to lose”. Which is fair.
But the contest may be closer than people want to accept.
Wait… you’re saying Andujar is a better defensive third baseman?!
Numbers don’t lie here people. While it’s a small sample size, let’s look solely at Andujar’s 2018 and compare it to Urshela’s 2019.
I think fielding percentage is the best metric, but we will look at advanced metrics. In 2018, Andujar sported a .948 fielding percentage over 136 games. That’s 15 errors committed. Not great, but also not terrible for a kid who made it to the majors earlier than the team anticipated. In 2019, Urshela sported a .954 fielding percentage over 123 games played at third. That’s 13 errors. If Urshela played as many games as Andujar did in 2018 for the 2019 season, it’s a no brainer that Urshela would have committed as many errors as Andujar, who was benched in the playoffs over his “shaky defense”. Urshela has been a known commodity at third for far longer than Andujar has been, so why are we as quick to defend Urshela and his defense in The Bronx, as we are to condemn Andujar’s “rocky at best defense”?
Now let’s look at the advanced defensive metrics.
Urshela has been up and down in the majors since 2015, compared to Andujar’s single year in the bigs. So, obviously, Urshela’s advanced metrics are more skewed. But, again, for a “defensive whiz kid” Urshela is touted as, Andujar isn’t that far off.
Urshela’s range factor per 9 innings sits at 2.43. Miguel Andujar’s sits at 2.08. Urshela’s range factor per game is 2.07, Andujar’s is 1.97. Yes, for their career, Andujar’s defensive runs saved above average is going to be pretty heavily skewed to reflect his “poor defense” for 2018 and the brief time he played third during the 2019 campaign, which is a staggering -27. Gio Urshela still has cost his team runs, and has a career defensive runs saved above average in the negatives as well (-4). Yes, I know -27 is a larger number than -4, but the way everyone raves about Urshela’s defense, you’d expect it to be in the positives.
Remember, 2019 was the first time since Urshela got called up he played a complete season in the bigs. 2018 was the first time Andujar played a complete season. And Urshela was TOUTED as a defensive whiz kid. And when you isolate the first full season either of these guys had, they were remarkably similar, with the numbers skewed more toward Urshela as he has a larger body of work compared to Andujar (273 games for Urshela to 143 for Andujar. baseball-reference.com)
But Urshela was a BEAST offensively!
And who’s to say that was an abnormal year? Remember, Andujar finished in 2nd place for the 2018 Rookie of the Year voting to the first dual-threat player since Babe Ruth (Shohei Ohtani). Andujar is a better-known commodity at this point offensively because it’s far more likely that what we saw in 2018 is what Andujar is capable of producing on a year to year basis.
Gio Urshela was a liability offensively prior to 2019.
Before this season, Gio never hit above .235. Before this season, his career WAR was in the negatives. Before this season, Miguel Andujar had a career WAR of 2.4, which was higher than where Urshela’s WAR is now! I say that because Andujar’s -1 WAR for 2019 brought his career war down to 1.5 (somehow, because that’s wrong math) whereas Gio’s total WAR, after his 2019 campaign, sits at 2.3.
Also, in one season, Andujar almost matched the number of home runs Urshela hit for his career, is one double behind Urshela, has hit more triples than Urshela has hit in his career, and has a better career batting average than Urshela has. And when we isolate the first full season each man had with the team, Andujar scored more runs than Urshela did, drove in more runs than Urshela did, convincingly got more hits than Urshela did, and matched Urshela in walks.
Remember when Yasiel Puig lit up the National League his rookie season? He’s now been wallowing in mediocrity, now on his third team in two seasons. Should Urshela get the nod over Andujar now? Yes. But once Miggy shows he’s healthy and recovered from his labrum tear, Urshela’s days at third are more than likely going to become limited. Especially if he can’t hide behind as many web gems to cover how many errors he’s committing.
And Then There’s the Field
Remember, DJ LeMahieu is a full infield utility player. He’s won a Gold Glove all around the horn (well, except catcher). If Gio or Miggy aren’t bringing it out of the gate, there’s a more real than the real probability that Boone starts DJ at third consistently.
This opens the door for Tyler Wade to get regular playing time at either short or second. Thairo Estrada also could crack the 26 man roster for 2020, but he still has options. Tyler Wade is running out (if not already out) of options. Why lose a player to waivers when you could trade him? Wade’s trade value seems to be higher now than Frazier’s (according to reports). Wade was also starting to FINALLY show some life at the plate this season, something that’s been sorely lacking in his major league appearances. Perhaps he’s about to turn the same corner Gio turned. Perhaps he AND Gio will return to the mediocre offensive performances they’ve been known for prior to 2019. And perhaps Andujar will regress offensively while showing little to no signs of improvement defensively.
So Who Get’s The Job?
The likelihood that LeMahieu starts regularly at third is laughable. As much as I think it would be a mistake, the plan seems to move Torres over to short, and let DJ start at second (more on that later in this series). Wade and Estrada will be Eduardo Nunez types. They’ll get playing time at third, but they’ll also get playing time all over the field (to give guys a day of rest). They’re not going to be you’re everyday starting third baseman.
Based on the small sample size that we have of Gio Urshela playing in New York, as well as Andujar’s, defensively the two are much closer together than people want to accept. Last year was the first year Urshela played a complete season. A lot will depend on how Urshela is going to be able to continue that moving forward. Andujar will have his own problems as he has to overcome the labrum surgery that derailed his 2019, on top of showing his defense has improved. But, again, Andujar committed 15 errors in 2018, Urshela committed 13 in 2019. Numbers don’t lie. If Andujar fixed his throwing motion problems that hurt him so much defensively at third in 2018, this is a much tighter race for the starting third baseman job than Brian Cashman wants to accept.