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Buy or Sell – Who is Cole Irvin & Why is Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Struggling?

In this week’s buy or sell article, we’re looking at two players that started hot and cold to begin the 2021 season. You can read the other recent articles here. Cole Irvin pitched well to start the season after many fantasy managers snagged him off the waiver wire. Meanwhile, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. struggled mightily out of the gate. However, Gurriel is heating up over his past 10 games. Is Irvin legitimate? Will he keep up this success with his control and command profile? Can Gurriel make up for the early struggles and live up to his top-100 pick in NFBC ADP? We plan to answer those questions and see where the data leads us.

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Buy or Sell – Who is Cole Irvin & Why is Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Struggling?

Cole Irvin (SP – OAK)

Admittedly, Cole Irvin wasn’t on my radar when considering late-round starting pitchers. Looking at Irvin’s NFBC ADP of 741, he ended up as a waiver wire find to start the season. Before 2021, Irvin threw 45.1 innings with a 6.75 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 17.2% strikeout rate, and 6.9% walk rate. In late January 2021, the Phillies traded Irvin to the Athletics for cash considerations, which seems like the Phillies didn’t value him highly. 

So far in 2021, Cole Irvin holds a 3.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 17.3% strikeout rate, and 4.5% walk rate. Irvin typically showed solid control and limited walks throughout his minor league career. The 12.8% K-BB% looks similar to a sleeper pitcher I liked in José Urquidy, who also limits the walks and commands his pitches well. Not saying Irvin and Urquidy should hold a similar value, but the data led me to put them into similar mental buckets. 

Cole Irvin’s .304 BABIP allowed and 73.6% LOB% initially looked a bit unsustainable, but then changed after his recent start against the Mariners. However, Irvin’s 8.2% HR/FB% may tick up a bit and one of the main reasons why we see the 4.62 xFIP, which takes into account a league-average HR/FB%. It’s no surprise to see Irvin with a below-average 9.6% swinging-strike rate, and it looks similar to his minor league track record. 

Irvin’s Pitch Mix & Arsenal

When looking at Cole Irvin’s pitch mix, he primarily uses four pitches at least 14% of the time in the four-seamer (39.6%), changeup (24.3%), sinker (18.5%), and slider (14.5%). Unsurprisingly, Irvin doesn’t blow anyone away with velocity evidenced by both his sinker and four-seamer averaging a bit over 90 mph. 

Irvin throws each of his pitches in the zone quite a bit, particularly the four-seamer and sinker. His four-seamer has a 64.1% Zone% and sinker has a 61.2% Zone%. In terms of swings and misses, Irvin’s changeup and slider look like his best pitches evidenced by a 14.6% swinging-strike rate on the changeup and 11.2% swinging-strike on the slider.

buy or sell
Cole Irvin’s Statcast Pitch Arsenal

Overall, it appears that Irvin commands his pitches well, especially with the four-seamers pounding the zone and a changeup that he paints down and away to right-handed hitters. Coincidentally, Irvin throws his changeup almost entirely to right-handed hitters with 204 of his 211 changeups thrown. 

In regards to pitch movement, Cole Irvin’s four-seamer has 2.2 inches of horizontal movement more than the average four-seamer. However, no other pitch seems to have a ton of notable movement. Overall, based on Baseball Savant’s Run Values, Irvin’s changeup (-2) and four-seam (-3) rate as his two best pitches with negative Run Values. 

Should We Buy or Sell Irvin?

After digging into the underlying metrics, Cole Irvin’s strengths include above-average control and command of his pitches. As the 346th pitcher drafted in NFBC leagues, Irvin already provided value for fantasy squads. On the Razzball Player Rater, Irvin ranks 86th amongst starting pitchers near Tyler Anderson and Carlos Martinez to provide context. In Nathan Dokken’s Starting Pitcher Rankings, Irvin sits at SP75 near Jameson Taillon and Adbert Alzolay. 

Before Tuesday’s start against the Mariners where he allowed 10 hits and four earned runs, Irvin ranked 62nd amongst starting pitchers on the Razzball Player Rater. Unfortunately, in trading leagues, I doubt Irvin holds a ton of name or player value. If you could swap Irvin for a struggling starting pitcher, I would consider it. However, fantasy managers might just ride Irvin’s success until we observe some struggles. 

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (OF – TOR)

Almost the entire Blue Jays roster came into the 2021 season with some hype. Unfortunately for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., he’s struggling with a .252 batting average, .633 OPS, four home runs, 14 runs, 14 RBI, and one steal. Currently, Gurriel has a .291 BABIP that should regress towards his career .322 BABIP, which should improve the batting average. Even his 71 wRC+ stands out compared to 124 and 135 wRC+ in 2019 and 2020. These numbers recently increased with a hot streak over the past 10 games as seen below.

When we combine 2019 and 2020, Gurriel looks quite enticing though he hasn’t compiled more than 343 plate appearances back in 2019. In 2019 and 2020, Gurriel finished with 31 home runs, 80 runs, 83 RBI, and nine steals with a .289 batting average and .874 OPS in 567 plate appearances total. 

Gurriel’s Plate Discipline

So what’s going on with Lourdes Gurriel this season? Although Gurriel never walked a ton, his 20.6% strikeout rate and 1.8% walk rate stand out compared to a 23.6% strikeout rate and 6% walk rate from 2019-2020. Immediately, we head towards plate discipline that shows us one concerning stat – Gurriel’s 42.2% O-Swing% compared to 38.6% in 2019 and 35.8% in 2020. Meanwhile, Gurriel is swinging more with a 56.1% Swing% that isn’t surprising given the higher chase rate. It might indicate a more aggressive approach or Gurriel pressing a bit. However, as we see below, when Gurriel’s chase rate (O-Swing%) increases, then the wOBA falls. 

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Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Rolling wOBA & O-Swing%

On the flip side, Lourdes Gurriel increased his zone contact rate while his contact rate remained the same. Gurriel’s 86% Z-Contact% jumped from 83.9% in 2020 and 78.3% in 2019. His 76.2% contact rate ranks similar to the league average and gradually increased from 69.1% in 2019 and 75.6% in 2020. The contact rates provide reasons for optimism even with the higher chase rate. However, the batted ball data and hard-hit metrics worry us a bit. 

Gurriel’s Batted Ball Data

After back-to-back seasons with a barrel rate higher than 11%, Lourdes Gurriel has a 6.9% barrel rate in 2021. Meanwhile, Gurriel’s 35.1% hard-hit rate also dropped from 44.8% in 2019 and a career-best 49.4% hard-hit rate in 2020. So far, 2021 looks like an outlier across the board for Gurriel, which could mean he’s simply off to a cold start. Even Gurriel’s average exit velocity on FB/LD dropped 2 mph, which isn’t a great sign. Before the season, I was buying into Gurriel more than I was selling, but that’s not looking so great. 

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Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Batted Ball Data

Should We Buy or Sell Gurriel’s Cold Start?

In 10-12 team leagues, Lourdes Gurriel is borderline droppable given the likelihood of better options on the waiver wire. However, the recent hot surge makes us hold on a bit longer. Even in trading leagues, nothing to do other than hold Gurriel if you still believe since it doesn’t make sense to trade him away while his value is so low. Honestly, we had a difficult time finding reasons for optimism outside of the higher or similar zone contact and contact rates overall. Expect his BABIP to regress more towards his career rate, which should improve the batting average. 

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Lourdes Gurriel Jr. vs. Breaking & Offspeed Pitches

A couple of other final notes – Lourdes Gurriel Jr. typically hit well against breaking and offspeed pitches. However, unsurprisingly, Gurriel is struggling against different types of pitches. He even isn’t hitting well against fastballs, which he hit well, but nothing mind-blowing. Take some of the data against breaking and offspeed pitches with a grain of salt since it’s a smaller sample of pitches overall. However, sometimes we find hitters consistently struggling with non-fastballs, so maybe Gurriel will turn it around. Overall, Gurriel should regress positively in several areas, and hopefully, that translates into fantasy production as well. 

Like Nathan’s Starting Pitcher Rankings? For more help, check out Eric Cross’s latest Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire column.

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