Deep Dive: The Curious Case of Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been on an absolute tear since being called back up on May 24th. It is almost an afterthought he was even sent down in the first place. That terrible start and demotion on April 14th led to most fantasy owners deciding it was a good time to cut bait and send him to the waiver wire.
It was the right move at the time and he did not belong on your fantasy baseball teams. If anyone actually did stash him you have since been rewarded. Outside of AL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues (15 teams or greater) I couldn’t imagine he would have been stashed.
What was the cause for the slow start leading to his demotion in the first place? What changes were made to lead to success since his promotion in late May? Is this sustainable? I am going to dive in and try to answer all these questions and provide a rest-of-season outlook. Let’s get to it.
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LOURDES GURRIEL AND HIS EARLY STRUGGLES
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. really got off to just an abysmal start to the 2019 campaign. Prior to being sent down on April 14, Gurriel played in 13 games. In those 13 games, he amassed an uninspiring 2 runs, 7 RBI and a steal. Not a single home run in the early going and a triple slash of .175/.250/.275. These numbers alone were reason enough to drop him from your fantasy teams even prior to the demotion.
With that said, now comes the fun part. Let’s dig into the numbers behind the numbers.
This is the batted ball data during the early struggles prior to the demotion. You’ll notice the LD% of only 14.3% as well as the above avg GB% of 42.9% and FB% of 42.9. Yes, he hit the same amount of ground balls as flyballs. That is not a typo.
Typically, a higher amount of fly balls is a good thing except when your hard-hit rate is only 19.1%. This would likely lead to a lot of weak fly outs and suggest he wasn’t barreling the ball either. This is actually indicated in the IFFB% of 22.2%.
Another issue is the crazy high soft contact rate of 38.1%! If you aren’t one the Mondesi types with elite speed, then high GB% and high soft contact rates never work out well. Unfortunately, these weren’t the only early season struggles.
The chase rate was at 41.8%. Which lent itself to the swinging strike rate of 14.3% and ultimately contributing to a K rate of 27.3%. Some swing and miss is acceptable in the game today but this is more than just some swing and miss. Ultimately, Gurriel Jr. earned every bit of that demotion.
May 24 was an exciting day for fantasy owners. The Blue jays called up Cavan Biggio. Oh and they also brought Lourdes Gurriel Jr. back up with him as well. Biggio was the hot player to add while Gurriel was overlooked in most formats due to the early season struggles. He would go on to show us he shouldn’t have been ignored. He came up and has been absolutely mashing ever since. Gurriel Jr. has 15 home runs, 28 RBI and has a triple slash of .350/.395/.741. Let’s take a look and see what exactly changed.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. appears to have worked on his discipline at the plate while in the minors this year. His chase rate since being called back up is still slightly above league average at 34.5% but that’s 6.8% lower than his early season chase rate. This correlates to the lower swing strike rate of 13.8% and the lower overall K rate of 24.8%. This is much better. There is still some swing and miss to Gurriel Jr.’s game but he has cut a lot of it out since the start of the year.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has also raised his pull rate over this stretch to 43.4% compared to earlier in the year when it was 38.1%. He has done so while keeping his FB% relatively the same at 42.5%. There has been huge strides made in his LD% and GB%. This would help explain some of the gains in the batting average department.
The other big change you see from the early struggles to now is the hard hit and soft contact rates. If you take a look, you’ll notice he has a HH% of 49.1% since May 24th while limiting the soft contact to 18.9% in the same time frame. The added pull rate paired with the substantial increase in his hard hit rate would explain the big power production he has flashed since the call up.
It really has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of season for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. so far. Now it is time to dive into the season long numbers as a whole and try to figure out what to expect moving forward.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been playing very well, but I have a hard time buying the version we have been given is the new Gurriel Jr. Regression to the mean is likely due and the statcast data suggests as much.
Right now his BA is .303, wOBA is .413, and SLG is .622. Unfortunately, his xBA of .267, xwOBA of .413 and xSLG of .532 all point to negative regression. It is not all doom and gloom, however. The xwOBA of .413 is still top 3% in the league and the xSLG is still top 8% in the league. This suggests the power and on-base skills he has flashed on the year are pretty legit.
Here is my favorite part of his profile. There is tangible change leading to the production. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has increased his walk rate from 3% last season to 7% this year. That is still below the league average, however, it still shows he has improved his plate discipline and is becoming a more patient and selective hitter. His hard-hit rate has also improved overall as well, albeit, by a very small percentage.
Another tangible change is the launch angle. He increased his launch angel 5.9 degrees; from 7.8 degrees in 2018 to 13.7 degrees in 2019. This could explain the power output as well as the increases in some of the power metrics.
If you actually look at his rolling launch angle, you’ll even a notice a change occur this year. This does coincide with the positive change in production since the call-up.
Lastly, his barrel rate has almost doubled from last season. It has increased from 7.8% in 2018 to 12.7% in 2019. The amount of solid contact he’s making only helps with the idea he can sustain a good amount of the production.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Rest Of Season Outlook
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been nothing short of spectacular for your teams whether you stashed him in deeper leagues or added him off the waiver wire in shallower formats. I believe he can sustain a good part of the recent production and I expect Gurriel Jr. to be a top 100 player for the rest of season.
He has a little added value due to his multi-position eligibility which includes second base, shortstop or outfield. He has made changes and with the changes has come success. I am a believer in the changes but I understand he will not sustain the recent production and as long as you can temper your expectations as well you will likely be pleased with the rest of season production.
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