Half Season Heroes: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s 2018 was a season of extremes. After being called up on April 20th, he struggled in his first taste of major league action – slashing .206/.229/.309 with a 43 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances before being sent to triple-A, Buffalo. After being re-called in July, Gurriel went on an absolute tear – slashing .423/.438/.648 with a 200 wRC+. Unsurprisingly, his BABIP was .456 during the month of July. Incredibly, Gurriel walked only once during his epic hot streak (and missed a week in the middle of the month with a concussion). On July 29th, Gurriel sprained his left ankle and spent most of August on the disabled list. Upon his return, he struggled once again, posting a .226/.270/.368 slash line with 4 home runs and a 69 wRC+.

Overall, the 25-year-old rookie finished 2018 hitting .281/.309/.446 with 11 home runs and a 103 wRC+ in 263 plate appearances.

Based on his rookie season, Gurriel looks to be a player that does some things very well and some things very poorly.

Lourdes hits the ball hard. Per Baseball Savant, his average exit velocity (90.3 mph) is well above the league mean. 45.6 percent of his batted balls were struck at over 95 mph – a mark that puts him inside the top ten percent in baseball (minimum 250 at bats) and ahead of players like Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Matt Carpenter. Gurriel makes little soft contact (15.5 percent) and is very good at avoiding infield fly balls (3.2 percent).

Gurriel also displayed more power in 2018 – hitting 18 home runs over three levels (AA, AAA and MLB) after hitting just 5 in 2017 – both truncated seasons, as he missed significant time with injuries.

One reason that Gurriel is able to make so much hard contact is his ability to hit the fastball. Gurriel slugged .575 with 7 home runs and a .400 wOBA against fastballs and cutters this season. His ability to handle the fastball is likely part of the reason Gurriel is so aggressive – he swung at 37.8 percent of first pitches in his rookie season.

While Gurriel is able to crush fastballs, he struggles against offspeed and breaking pitches.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. vs. Pitch Types
AVG SLG Whiff%
Fastball 0.328 0.541 14.3
Breaking 0.232 0.329 35.1
Offspeed 0.244 0.400 43.2
SOURCE: baseballsavant.com

In addition to not being able to handle anything with a wrinkle, Gurriel’s plate approach will likely have to improve if he’s going to see success as a major league hitter. He rarely walks – his 3.4% walk rate was seventh worst among all players with at least 250 plate appearances. His minor league numbers were not much better – he posted a .297 OBP over two seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization.

Since 2000, only eight players have produced a wRC+ of 110 or higher with a walk rate below 4 percent and a strikeout rate above 20 percent. Of those eight players, no one has posted at least a 110 wRC+ more than once. Even in 2018, the Javier Baez plate approach is the exception rather than the rule.

Low Walk, High Strikeout Seasons Since 2000
Season Name Tm BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+
2002 Alfonso Soriano NYY 3.10% 21.19% 0.300 0.332 0.547 131
2010 John Buck TOR 3.66% 25.40% 0.281 0.314 0.489 114
2011 Reed Johnson CHC 1.88% 23.68% 0.309 0.348 0.467 121
2012 Michael Morse WSN 3.72% 22.56% 0.291 0.321 0.470 113
2014 Delmon Young BAL 3.92% 20.00% 0.302 0.337 0.442 120
2014 C.J. Cron LAA 3.95% 24.11% 0.256 0.289 0.450 112
2015 Jonathan Schoop BAL 2.80% 24.61% 0.279 0.306 0.482 113
2018 Adalberto Mondesi KCR 3.78% 26.46% 0.276 0.306 0.498 114

It is worth remembering that Gurriel Jr. is still only 25. He posted a .362 OBP in six years of play in the Cuban National Series and was able to keep his strikeout rate below 17 percent until he reached triple-A partway through his 2018 season. If his power growth is real, he could posses the upside of someone like Miguel Andujar with slightly less home run potential.

Gurriel is eligible at second base and shortstop, and as of right now, will enter the 2019 season competing for at-bats in the Blue Jays’ middle infield. Everything the team has said suggests they want to give Gurriel an opportunity to establish himself, but even after the trade of Aledmys Diaz, he could still be battling for playing time with Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Drury, Devon Travis and (possibly) Richard Urena. The Jays also have one of baseball’s best prospects in shortstop Bo Bichette, who could be factoring into the playing time mix sooner rather than later as well.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will need to work on his plate discipline and learn to hit something other than a fastball if he’s going to see sustained success in the majors. But with his ability to hit the ball hard and indications in his minor league numbers that improvements are possible, Gurriel is an intriguing player heading into 2019. Just make sure to keep a close eye out for skills improvement and a path to playing time.

Nick thinks running a Major League or fantasy baseball team is incredibly easy. Until he is handed one of those coveted GM positions, his writing at RotoGraphs will illustrate how to do it properly. Fantasy baseball trade consultations and anything else can be sent to nick.dika@gmail.com or tweeted to @nickdika.

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It may ultimately be his defense that determines his playing time. A cannon for an arm but too many errors and terrible footwork leave a lot of room for improvement.