Toronto Blue Jays 2019 Report Card: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 28: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays flies out in the first inning during a MLB game against the Kansas City Royals at Rogers Centre on June 28, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 28: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays flies out in the first inning during a MLB game against the Kansas City Royals at Rogers Centre on June 28, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had an eventful 2019 with the Toronto Blue Jays. What grade did he earn for his performance?

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s 2019 season was characterized by a loss of confidence in his throwing ability, a demotion to Buffalo, a position change, 37 missed-games due to a quad injury, and season-ending surgery to remove his appendix.

Grading system

I constructed my own grading method. It is a combination of a standard grade system and the 2018 fWAR percentiles for position players; Table 1 shows the grading scheme. The highlights are as follows:

  • The data set of fWARs reflects any position player with a minimum of 100 plate appearances and an fWAR that is not negative
  • An fWAR that is approximately in the top-third will earn a B
  • A grade of C is awarded to an fWAR that is roughly the median of the data set
  • I arbitrarily decided that any fWAR that is in the 15th or lower percentile receives an F

The evidence

Table 2 contains some data that is relevant for an assessment of Gurriel Jr.’s 2019 season.

Positive performance metrics 

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  • A 1.8 fWAR that ranks 20th among left fielders
  • A 124 wRC+
  • A 0.327 OBP, which is marginally better than the American League’s 0.323 average
  • An xSLG and Hard Hit% that is 80th and 83rd percentile, respectively
  • His xBA on fastballs improved from 0.253 in 2018 to 0.347 (fastballs accounted for 56% of the pitches seen by Gurriel Jr.)
  • Gurriel Jr.’s xBA on breaking balls, which accounted for 33% of pitches faced,  was 0.241; it was 0.207 in 2018

Negative performance metrics

  • The Chase% was 35.0%, which is higher than the MLB average of 28.3%
  • Although his BB% improved from 3.4% in 2018 to 5.8%, it  ranked in the 19th percentile
  • His BB%-K% ranked in the 17th percentile
  • Defensively, his DRS is a negative 2 and his Outs Above Average was minus 4
  • Gurriel Jr.’s Whiff% on fastballs jumped from 2018’s 14.3% to 29.3%

Areas for improvement

Plate discipline

Brooks Baseball describes Gurriel Jr. as follows:

"Against Fastballs (726 seen), he has had an aggressive approach at the plate (-0.06 c) with a disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss (29% whiff/swing). Against Breaking Pitches (427 seen), he has had a very aggressive approach at the plate (-0.19 c) with an above average likelihood to swing and miss (37% whiff/swing)."

Contrast that description with that of Michael Brantley.

"Against Fastballs (1,446 seen), he has had a steady approach at the plate (0.13 c) with a low likelihood to swing and miss (7% whiff/swing). Against Breaking Pitches (517 seen), he has had a patient approach at the plate (0.17 c) with a low likelihood to swing and miss (21% whiff/swing)."

Image 1 and Image 2 reflect the percentage whiffs per swing on hard stuff by Gurriel Jr. and Brantley, respectively. Perhaps Gurriel Jr.’s very high relative whiff rate on hard stuff is tied to his lack of plate discipline on fastballs compared to Brantley. This can be seen in Image 3 and Image 4; Brantley is better than Gurriel Jr. when it comes to not swinging at out-of-zone, inside hard stuff. Finally, 2018 Gurriel Jr. was better than his 2019 version at making contact on fastballs (Image 5) and also laying off high, out-of-zone hard stuff (Image 6).

Better plate discipline and pitch recognition may lead to a lower whiff rate on fastballs. Additionally, a less aggressive approach may produce improved plate discipline metrics. Finally, enhanced plate discipline may increase his walk rate. However, the whiff rate on hard stuff is a red-flagged area for Gurriel Jr. It is startling that this whiff rate more than doubled in 2019 from its 2018 level.

Defense

Both DRS and Outs Above Average indicate that Gurriel Jr. is slightly below-average as a defender. However, to be fair to him, left field was a new position at the Major League level. Given his athleticism, it appears that he can become at least an average left fielder.

Overall grade

Despite only playing in 84 games in 2019, Gurriel Jr. posted a 1.8 fWAR. That ranked 20th among MLB left fielders. When I balance his relatively low number of games played (which would lead to an “incomplete” grade) against the fact that he overcame many challenges and played well, I think a C+ is a fair grade for Gurriel Jr.

Next. Blue Jays: A New/Old Starting Pitching Idea. dark

The last word

2019 was a successful season for Gurriel Jr. He has been identified by many as part of the young, Blue Jays core going into next season. His performance this season was worthy of both praise and hope.

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