Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez were optioned to the Buffalo Bisons within the first two months of the 2019 season. Upon their return to the Blue Jays, both players have hit better than they did prior to their demotion. One aspect of hitting that many observers have highlighted is that Gurriel Jr. and Hernandez are more disciplined at the plate. Are those observations valid?
Prior to their Buffalo sojourns, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez were sporting a wRC+ of 40 and 47, respectively. Furthermore, Gurriel Jr. was lacking confidence in his ability to make throws from the infield. Hernandez was, to be kind, an adventure in left field. His performance reminded me of a joke that can be applied to many players.
Q: What does Hernandez do when 100 balls are hit to him?
Gurriel Jr. has displayed better plate discipline since he returned from the land of Genesee Cream Ale. Hernandez surprisingly is league-average with respect to swinging at pitches outside the strike zone and has a slightly higher swing rate on pitches in the zone. He has maintained that level of discipline subsequent to his post-demotion arrival in Toronto.
The first step in this analysis is to examine some non-plate discipline metrics and determine how poorly Gurriel Jr. and Hernandez were at the plate prior to their respective Buffalo stints. Tables 1 and 2 contain the data. It should be noted that this article does not address the changes in the defensive profiles of Gurriel Jr. and Hernandez since their time in Buffalo.
Observations – Prior to the demotion to Buffalo
- The first point to note is that Gurriel Jr. only had 44 plate appearances before he was optioned to the Bisons
- His BB%, although below the American League average, was better than his career rate
- However, his K%, ISO, BABIP, wOBA, and wRC+ were poor compared to his career marks
- Surprisingly, Hernandez recorded improved BB% and K% rates compared to his previous career numbers
- Notably, his ISO, BABIP, wOBA, and wRC+ plummeted relative to his historical numbers
Observations – The return from Buffalo
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- Given that Gurriel Jr. only had 44 plate appearances, it would be more appropriate to compare his 2019 season to his career numbers
- Although Gurriel Jr. is walking at a higher rate than previous seasons, he is below-average in this metric
- His K% is higher than both his career average and the American League mean
- Gurriel Jr.’s 2019 performance in respect of ISO, BABIP, wOBA, and wRC+ are close to his career markers and above league-average
- Since his return from Buffalo, Hernandez has maintained his better-than-average BB%
- His K% is near the level he produced in the past, which is almost 9 percentage points higher than the American League average
- Hernandez has generated a top-tier ISO and a slightly elevated wOBA and wRC+
- His BABIP is in-line with his career and the league average
Many media people have opined that both Gurriel Jr. and Hernandez have been more disciplined at the plate since their return from the land of chicken wings. Buck Martinez has mentioned it numerous times on Blue Jays broadcasts. Not that Buck, this Buck. Does the data support that opinion? Well, there’s a Table to answer that question.
Before going any further, some terms may need to be defined. They are as follows: O-Swing%; Z-Swing%; Swing%; O-Contact%; Z-Contact%; Contact%; Zone%; and SwStr%.
- Since Gurriel Jr.’s return from Buffalo, he is swinging at pitches that are outside the strike zone at a lesser rate than he did prior to his Buffalo visit
- The rate at which Gurriel Jr. swings at pitches in the strike zone has increased by an impressive 8 percentage points, which is now at a level that is higher than the American League average
- However, the rate at which Gurriel Jr. makes contact on pitches in the strike zone has declined by almost 5 percentage points since his Buffalo respite and is below the American League average
- Gurriel Jr.’s swing-and-miss rate (total pitches) is higher than the league average
- Gurriel Jr.’s plate discipline has indeed improved since he returned to the Majors, as indicated by the improved O-Swing and Z-Swing rates
- However, he remains a hitter that swings at pitches outside the strike zone at a rate that is higher than the average American League batter
- Remarkably, Hernandez is about average in terms of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone and has been better since returning to the Show
- Similar to Gurriel Jr., Hernandez continues to be below-average in terms of contact rates on pitches outside and inside the strike zone
- Hernandez’s plate discipline did not really change after his recent tenure in Buffalo
- He is average in terms of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone and slightly-above in terms of swinging at pitches in the zone
The opinion that Gurriel Jr. has demonstrated better plate discipline since his return from Buffalo is supported by the data. With respect to Hernandez, his judgement at the plate is better than many imagine but is currently about where it was prior to his days as a Bison.
A final step in this analysis is to look at some Statcast data.
Tables 5 and 6 provide some insights into Gurriel Jr.’s and Hernandez’s hitting. One item to note is that the Chase Zone is slightly smaller than FanGraph’s O-Zone. This explains why the Chase% is less than the O-Swing% for both players.
- Gurriel Jr.’s Whiff%, which is swing and miss on pitches swung at, has deteriorated in 2019 and is more than 8 percentage points above the average
- According to Statcast, his Whiff% on fastballs has doubled in 2019 compared to 2018 (28.7% from 14.3%)
- This is not insignificant given that approximately 55% of the pitches that Gurriel Jr. sees are fastballs
- Hernandez is not immune from whiffing on pitches either but his whiff rates on fastballs, breaking balls, and off-speed pitches have improved since 2018
- This is speculation but I wonder if the whiff rates for both players is attributable to pitch recognition and/or a poor approach
- With respect to the latter point, as Kevin Barker often says, if you have difficulty hitting a certain pitch, then don’t swing at it until there are two strikes
- The other interesting item to note is that both hitters are above-average in Barrel rates
- However, Hernandez is barreling the ball at a rate that is 5 percentage points lower in 2019 (10.6%) than it was in 2018 (15.5%)
- Statcast data confirms the eye test when it comes to Gurriel Jr. and Hernandez
- Both hitters have a lot of swing and miss but, when they connect, they really barrel the ball
The last word
Yes, it is true. Gurriel Jr. has demonstrated better plate discipline since his return from Buffalo. He still has a higher rate than the average American League hitter in terms of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. However, he is better than he was in the early part of the 2019 season. Hernandez’s plate discipline is about the same post-demotion as it was before. Both players benefited from their stints in Buffalo and have been more productive hitters since their return.