Can Gio play SS? It’s complicated…

I’m a skeptic by nature. My default reaction is to question and be dubious more often than not about pretty much everything. Some call this having a “glass half empty” mentality and some call me a “Debbie Downer”. Others just think I’m an a-hole.

But you know the carpenter’s credo – measure twice, cut once? Yeah, I think most people would be better off if they applied that philosophy to their critical thinking before opining – but what do I know?

Personal idiosyncrasies aside, here’s my glass half empty Yankee take:

Recently Aaron Boone came out publicly stating he’d be OK with Gio Urshela playing shortstop once in a while to spell Gleyber Torres. This, on the surface, may seem like good news. As I noted yesterday this means the Yankees do not HAVE to keep Tyler Wade on the roster as the only backup shortstop option, which makes it more likely the Yankees can stick with Derek Dietrich who can play 3B, 2B, 1B and the corner OF spots. (Also incidentally, Dietrich – unlike Wade – has shown an ability to hit major league pitching.)

So what’s the problem? There are a few.

One is the massive misunderstanding of Urshela’s glove work as a third baseman. This has been covered in many places before (except for the Yankees’ media reps, who speak as if Gio is Brooks Robinson 2.0) – Urshela has great hands, but ZERO range. This gives the appearance he’s great because he snags very hard hit balls with ease. The reality is that he doesn’t get to many balls that other 3rd basemen do get to and turn into outs.

Since 2017, Gio is -7 Outs Above Average on grounders to his right or left, according to Statcast. Does that make him a “bad” 3rd baseman? No, because as mentioned, he’s got other skills that are strengths.

But it does mean that a 3rd baseman with no range is probably going to be a pretty bad shortstop.

Which leads to problem two: Gleyber Torres has yet to prove that he can play shortstop on a major league level. Can he improve? Of course, he’s only 24 and he still only has 138 games as a SS under his belt. But folks underestimate how much he needs to improve – last year he was 37th out of 39 qualifying shortstops in OAA – he literally can improve by 20% and still be well below league average defensively. A poor defensive shortstop is not something that is tenable on a long term basis, which leads to problem three:

With the re-signing of D.J. LeMahieu who is now entrenched at 2nd base, the parachute with Gleyber’s name on it, should he not improve as a SS, is gone. The name Torres with a “6” next to it in the lineup is now in pen, not pencil. If Gleyber doesn’t significantly improve, the Yankees have some serious logistical issues. No team is winning a World Series with a defensive liability ta SS, and Gleyber can’t return to 2nd base for the next 6 years. Speaking of which…

Sorry Yankee fans, D.J. LeMahieu did not suddenly turn into Rogers Hornsby.

Is he a very good player? Absolutely.

Is he the monster we watched over 195 AB in 2020? Very, very, unlikely. In fact, the smart folks at Baseball Prospectus (Rob Mains specifically) have him as one of the players most likely to return to earth in 2021 – a year in which DJ turns 33.

Given that possibility, the questions about defense at the second most important position on the field, and I hate to say it but it’s a legit factor: In two years Aaron Judge is going to need A LOT of money – asking if the Yankees would have been better off letting DJ walk and acquiring a glove 1st SS is still an open ended and legitimate question.

Is it possible it’ll all work out and my skepticism is unwarranted? Sure. Gleyber may turn into a competent SS and stay healthy for 155 games and D.J. may be a plus hitter and good glove 2nd baseman into his mid-30s.

But I’m going to need to see those things happen first before I celebrate Gio being a fill in at SS.

Did I miss something? Let me know.


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