With the exodus of Mike Moustakus and Travis Shaw, the Milwaukee Brewers had a gaping hole to fill at third base coming into the 2020 season. As things look right now, that hole will be filled by some combination of players that includes Jedd Gyorko. Whether signing Gyorko will make a significant difference at the position is a burning question for the Milwaukee faithful going into 2020.
The signing of the former Cardinals’ infielder is the definition of a low risk/moderate reward signing. The Brewers signed him for virtually nothing, guaranteeing him just $3 million over the short life of the contract. As per usual with David Stearns, Gyorko signed a one year contract ($2 million) with an 2021 option (valued at $4.5 million plus incentives if he can reach certain plate appearance benchmarks) and a $1 million buyout.
The reason the Brewers could sign Gyorko to such a contract was a result of his 2019 season. While the West Virginia native has been a productive player throughout his career, he was bereft with injuries last season. Problems with his wrist, lower back, and calf contributed to a .174/.248/.250 slash line through just 101 plate appearances. Those numbers are a far cry from his 2016 season that saw him hit 30 bombs and slug .495. In fact across three seasons in St. Louis between 2016-2018, Gyorko slashed .259/.331/.463.
Numbers like that at third base would be welcome in Milwaukee, especially since Gyorko has posted some decent defensive metrics at the position with St. Louis. Ultimate Zone Rating suggested he was a total of +4.9 runs better than average from 2016-18, while Defensive Runs Saved saw him at a whopping +24 runs with the glove, with the bulk of that value coming in 2017. However to expect the 2016-2018 Cardinals’ version of Jedd Gyorko to emerge for the 2020 Milwaukee Brewers is likely a Pollyanna dream.
The Brewers signed Gyorko to cover third base against left handed pitching and right handed pitchers with reverse splits. Gyorko’s career against southpaw pitchers is .267/.341/.455 with a wRC+ of 119 and a wOBA of .344. That is good production and it is the likely scenario that the 31 year old infielder will find himself in 2020.
Gyorko also gives Craig Counsell another versatile tool to employ on a day-to-day basis. He can play all over the infield competently, and he has even logged 2 innings in left field and 1.1 innings on the mound in his career. Expect Counsell to utilize him at second and first base from time to time as well.
One of the major concerns moving forward is whether Eric Sogard can handle the hot corner against right-handed pitching. If Nerd Power craters in 2020 like he did in 2018, Gyorko might be called upon to play everyday. That would not be putting him in the best position to succeed. With that acknowledged, the Brewers would at least be covered with a player that has been an everyday player in the past.
The Brewers’ brass likes Gyorko, as David Stearns recently articulated.
We like Jedd and we’re pleased we were able to bring him on board... We think he fits our team really well. He’s a right-handed bat who has the ability to play multiple positions. Obviously, he has extensive experience at third base, where he’s likely to see significant time with us...We think he pairs nicely with Eric Sogard. He has hit left-handed pitching very well...We believe he’s a healthy player...He had a number of different injuries that were nagging at him last year. He’s going through his normal off-season routine now. Naturally, we gave him a pretty extensive physical (exam). We believe he’ll be healthy and ready to go in spring training...We’re never going to stop looking to get better. That’s true throughout the entirety of our roster...It gives us depth. It not only allows us to see not only how the rest of the offseason unfolds but allows us to see how the first part of the season unfolds, in terms of how we want to structure our roster and deploy different players. It gives Craig the ability to mix and match, depending on who we’re playing.
Pulling from Stearns’ statements we can glean a lot, much of which has already been discussed in this article: hits left-handed pitching well, versatility, and covers third base in a platoon situation with Sogard. However there is a great deal more going on here.
First team fit seems to be a big deal for Milwaukee. The Brewers have likely made mistakes in this category under the David Stearns regime, but not often. Gyorko was probably assessed for fit prior to signing with the Brewers. If their assessment is correct, Gyorko will be the proverbial “good clubhouse guy,” and that probably does make a bigger difference than many of us realize.
Gyorko looks to be healthy going into 2020. While he was unable to replicate his 2016 numbers in 2017 and 2018, Gyorko has been a good player when healthy. Depending on what WAR category you subscribe to, he has been above replacement level to good for much of his career. A healthy Jedd Gyorko is likely to be a reasonably good player for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2020, especially if he is used to his strengths.
INF Jedd Gyorko has been signed to a 1-year contract with a club option for 2021. pic.twitter.com/6DO0jKAPvE— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) January 10, 2020
The most positive portion of the Stearns’ statement comes from the portion about always looking to improve and roster construction as the season progresses. The Gyorko/Sogard platoon at third base seems to be the fallback option in the event Milwaukee cannot find something better to begin the season or at some point during the season prior to the trade deadline. That is encouraging.
In the end, Jedd Gyorko is most likely going to be deployed in a platoon at third base with Eric Sogard while covering other positions on the infield when needed. While his defensive versatility is useful, his bat off the bench late in games as well as at the bottom of the order when he starts is not something to ignore. He is a solid major league hitter that becomes better than that when facing left handed pitching. His contribution for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2020 will likely be a positive one, and if it is not then at least he was cheap and expendable.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs