The curious case of Miguel Andujar

The 2019 version of Miguel Andujar isn’t the player the New York Yankees remember.

The Yankees remember the Andujar that had an OPS of .855 over 149 games in 2018. They remember the American League Rookie of the Year runner up who should’ve received the honor if it wasn’t for the hype and impressive two-way play surrounding Shohei Ohtani. They saw a defender who had limited range and a hitch in his throw but also youthful athleticism and a cannon for an arm.

An ideal 2019 would’ve seen Andujar remain an extra base machine, one of the rare players who lives up to the prospect hype.  Instead, the Yankees are experiencing an Andujar who looks lost.

In all facets of the game.It was just over a year ago when Billy McKinney sprained his AC joint after attempting to make an acrobatic play at the Rogers Center in a season-opening series against the Toronto Blue Jays. The organization decided it was time to promote Andujar – the team’s fourth-rated prospect at the time, per MLB Pipeline – in the wake of McKinney’s injury.

It wasn’t long before the Dominican native Wally Pipp’d Brandon Drury, a one-time Brian Cashman pet project in the ilk of Aaron Hicks, Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius and Luke Voit, whose blurred vision put him on the disabled list in the opening days of the 2018 season.  From April 5 until the Yankees’ final game against the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALDS, Andujar because the team’s starting third baseman, and a household name in the Bronx that was taking the baseball world by storm. Only Giancarlo Stanton played in more games than the then-23-year-old rookie, who appeared in 149 contests. Over that span, Andujar proved why he was highly-touted from Tampa to Scranton and Trenton in between, as he slashed an impressive .297/.328/.527 in 573 at-bats. His 47 doubles not only led all teammates but also surpassed an 82 year record held by Joe DiMaggio for most in a rookie season. Andujar’s 27 home runs helped the Yankees set a new record for long balls in a season with 267.

Despite his shortcomings in the on-base percentage category and his aggressive tendencies at the plate, Andujar also arguably proved to be the most consistent offensive presence on a team that won 100 games. The Yankees couldn’t have dreamt up a better debut campaign for one of their prized Baby Bombers, and their hopes couldn’t have been much higher entering 2019.

Andujar hit .347 in 18 Spring Training games and was penciled in as the fifth hitter on the team’s Opening Day lineup card, batting in front of powerful catcher Gary Sanchez and equally-as-impressive second-year standout Gleyber Torres. But since game one of 162 against the Baltimore Orioles, it has been downhill for the third baseman.

After starting slow out of the gate, Andujar awkwardly dove back to third base, leading to a right shoulder strain on April 1. He joined a slew of Yankees on the injured list, with the news almost serving as a tacky April Fools joke. Andujar was eventually diagnosed with a partial labrum tear. The original fear was season-ending surgery, but it was decided upon that rehab would put the issues aside. Andujar was activated on May 4, but in the nine games since his return, he’s hardly resembled the player the Yankees remember.

On the surface, his numbers are as bad as they get. He’s currently hitting .128 with an OPS of .271, one RBI and zero extra-base hits in 47 at-bats. The eye test shows a lot, too; Andujar simply looks lost at the plate: timing and apparent waning confidence.

But it goes beyond that. Despite the lack of sample size between this season and last, the differences are stark. Andujar’s BABIP is down to .162 after hitting an impressive .316 a year ago. His wOBA went from .361 to .122 while his hard hit percentage is down over 11 points from 2018 to 2019.

Last season, his exit velocity average sat at 89.2. This year? 83.6.

The rabbit hole gets deeper from there. Andujar is swinging at almost the same amount of pitches this season compared to last (53.1% vs. 52.6%), but he’s making less contact against both balls (56.8% vs. 67.7%) and strikes (81.3% vs. 91.9%). His contact percentage as a whole is down, as he’s doing so just 69% of the time compared to 82% in 2018. As a result, Andujar is hitting ground balls at a high clip while also almost halving his opposite field percentage – one of the best parts of his game during his rookie season.

While Andujar’s issues on the field are concerning, there’s a whole other dynamic factoring into all this: Gio Urshela. Urshela, as Yankees fans have witnessed, may be the latest Cashman project to show real promise.

The 27-year-old has been the face of the “Other Guys” with his slick fielding play at the hot corner, combined with a .341/.396/.505 slash line in 101 plate appearances. His immediate impact on the field has fans ready to appoint him the new third baseman as fast as when Andujar replaced Drury. It will never be public knowledge, but there’s no denying Urshela’s fantastic play may be factoring into Andujar’s wavering confidence.

The Yankees have an interesting dilemma on their hands: They can keep Andujar in their everyday lineup with the hopes that he’ll straighten himself out against major league pitching. They can use one of his options, send him to Scranton to work on timing and see if a rise in production will also enhance his confidence and keep penciling Urshela onto the lineup card.

But that decision – no matter what it may be – needs to come soon.

Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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