When the Brewers let third basemen Mike Moustakas walk in free agency and sign with the division rival Reds last offseason, fans were … upset, to say the least.
Needless to say, sentiments didn’t improve when they signed Jedd Gyorko to replace Moustakas.
Gyorko was indeed coming off a career worst year in 2019. He batted just .174 and posted a downright embarrassing .498 OPS in 101 games, splitting time between the Cardinals and Dodgers.
Moustakas, on the other hand, had been a critical piece of the Brewers’ push to two consecutive playoff appearances and a clear fan favorite.
Perhaps it was simply due to the Gyorko’s history with the Cardinals, but the signing seemed underwhelming. Fans viewed it as an unwillingness to spend to improve the team. After all, the Brewers got him at the bargain basement price of $1 million, while Moustakas collected a handsome $12 million from the Reds.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic halted Spring Training and sent all players home until further notice, Gyorko took to social media to show off his cornhole skills, endearing himself to Brewers’ fans, whose affinity for the game is all too apparent during the tailgating hours at Miller Park.
— Jedd Gyorko (@JGyorko05) April 10, 2020
What remained to be seen, however, was Gyorko’s skills on the diamond, and even then it took a while before he broke into the lineup regularly.
When the season finally began in late July, Gyorko was used as a platoon option for Craig Counsell. Gyorko was absent from the first three starting lineups of the year and only saw 56 plate appearances through the Brewers’ first 37 games.
Nonetheless, he was producing to the tune of a .265 average and a .949 OPS in those 56 PAs. For an offense that was largely stuck in the mud the entire season, his contributions were hard to ignore, and he was inserted into the lineup for good on September 8.
The move roughly coincided with the release of regular first basemen Justin Smoak, who batted just .186 in his short-lived Brewer career. Gyorko subsequently took over as the regular first basemen and performed well, committing just one error in the truncated, 60-game season.
Return to Form
While his defensive abilities may not have been in question entering the season, he surprised with an offensive rejuvenation.
Gyorko finished with career-highs in slugging percentage (.504) and OPS (.838). He hit nine home runs in 117 at bats after two straight seasons in which his power numbers plummeted. After hitting a career-high 30 homers with the Cardinals in 2016, he hit just 11 in 402 at bats in 2018 and only two in 92 ABs in 2019.
Fans upset about the loss of Moustakas can rest easy that the Brewers actually got quite a steal with Gyorko. In fact, Gyorko was slightly better than Moustakas in 2020.
Gyorko had more homers (9 to 8), a higher average (.248 to .230), a higher BABIP (.278 to .247), and a higher wRC+ (118 to 109).
Gyorko managed it in 28 fewer PAs too. He also led all Brewer position players with 0.6 bWAR.
Not everything was rosy, however. He batted just .179 with runners in scoring position, and he ranked fourth worst among first basemen in sprint speed according to Statcast.
If I was grading on a curve, he might have been in line for a solid ‘A’ grade, especially in comparison to the rest of the offense.
I can’t imagine anyone making the argument that Gyorko will be the answer at first base. There’s a definite need to upgrade the corner infield spots in terms of production.
In the end, however, Gyorko made solid contributions for the team this year, and it’d be worth it for the Brewers to pick up his $4.5 million club option for 2021. At the very least, you know what you’re getting with Gyorko, and he’s an inexpensive option in terms of depth. A scenario where he platoons with Daniel Vogelbach at first next season isn’t out of the question.
In 2020 terms, though, Gyorko was one of the few bright spots on offense for the Brewers.
Final Grade: B+