Monday officially closed the book on Miguel Andujar’s season when the third baseman underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum. Although the star-studded compilation of players, known as the Yankees injured list, has headlined the season, it’s the men who have filled these vacancies that are perhaps the biggest story in baseball.
Domingo German and his MLB-high nine wins are on pace to be named the American League starting pitcher for the 2019 all-star game, as he has replicated numbers that were expected out of Luis Severino. Clint Frazier has stabilized a depleted outfield that has received 29 total games from Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks. The Bombers secondary options have performed way past anybody’s expectations, but there is one bat that has shined brighter than most. That piece of lumber belongs to Andujar’s replacement, Gio Urshela.
It’s been a long time since Urshela has been labeled an everyday player, dating back to 2015 when he started 76 of his 81 games for the Cleveland Indians. That season he set career highs in at-bats (267), doubles (8), extra-base hits (15) and RBI (21). Urshela is on pace to surpass those marks by a healthy margin as his 12 XBH (10 doubles) and 17 RBI have come in just 113 at-bats.
The box score stats are noteworthy, but the numbers that hold the most value are found when you dive into his split statistics. In almost every situation that would be considered clutch hitting, Urshela ranks top in the league. His career-high RBI pace has not happened by accident, as he is hitting north of .400 with runners in scoring position. In these situations, Urshela has 12 hits, which ranks third on the team. Two outs and RISP have been the moments he has hit particularly well in, tallying six hits in 12 attempts. He is in a class all by himself as the only MLB player to be hitting .400+ w/ RSIP and .500+ w/ RISP and two outs (min. 10 AB).
Late game heroics have highlighted Urshela’s M-O this season, as five times in the last 19 Yankee victories he has knocked in the tying or game-winning runs. Urshela sparked a 6-3 west coast trip when in the first game he drove in go-ahead runs in the 12th and 14th innings versus the Los Angeles Angels. Two weeks later his two-run, 433-foot bullet to center field in the ninth innings knotted the game at four, setting up teammates Cameron Maybin and D.J. LeMahieu to complete the walk-off against the Seattle Mariners. Urshela then made division rival Tampa Bay Rays victim twice in eight days. A two-run double on May 7 gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead that would result in the final score and on May 17 he collected his career first walk-off to cap a three-run ninth inning rally. He owns a .326 batting average in the sixth inning or later and has driven in 13 of his 17 RBI.
Urshela has not allowed count leverage to become an advantage for opposing pitchers, resulting in his plate approach marking as one of the best in baseball. His .290 batting average in two-strike counts groups him with just eight other major leaguers to be hitting at that clip or higher. Other names on this list include early-season MVP candidates Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, and Michael Brantley.
Urshela has quickly become a fan favorite in the Bronx with the success he has produced in New York’s current 25-8 run since beginning the year with only six wins in 15 games. His .366 batting average in Yankee victories leads the team, compared to just .258 when they lose. Although it may be a stretch to claim ‘the Yankees go as Gio goes’, there is no doubt that the Yankees would not be where they are without the impact of this under-the-radar 2018 waiver acquisition.