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2023 Diamondbacks Reviews: #12 Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Piña Power.

MLB: World Series-Texas Rangers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

  • Rating: 7.57
  • 2023 stats: 145 G, 551 AB, .261/.309/.463, 108 OPS+ / 108 wRC+, also 24 HR, 3.0 bWAR, 2.1 fWAR
  • Date of birth: October 10, 1993
  • 2023 earnings: $5,400,000 (via Spotrac)
  • 2024 status: as a free agent he signed on December 17 a 3 year $42MM contract with the Diamondbacks, with an opt out after year 2. $14MM club option for a 4th year.

Introduction

A lot has been written about Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and his season in the desert already, so I am not going to write a lot about the left fielder who will be with us for, at least, the next two seasons.

The younger brother of former Astros’ world series champions Yuli Gurriel defected with his brother in 2016 from Cuba after playing a tournament in the Dominican Republic. As such, he was declared a free agent by the MLB. Lourdes Gurriel signed a 7-year $22MM contract in 2016 with the Blue Jays and because of the defection and free agency he was never in for a qualifying offer at the end of the 2023 season, something we obviously didn’t always quite understand.

The Cuban had problems getting on base in his first season, combining for a .607 OPS at A+ and AA in 2017. The low walk rates stand out, something that will stick to him until now, but the strikeout rates aren’t that alarming, so maybe it is just a matter of adaption to better pitching until Gurriel starts getting on base frequently.

That indeed happens in 2018, as the power shows up in Gurriel’s bat. He still walks at a very low rate, but the contact rates go up and he makes his debut in the major leagues. In 2018 he hits a very respectable .281/.309/.446 in 65 games in his rookie season at the highest level, although injuries limit his appearances in August and September of that year. In 2019 the Blue Jays shift Gurriel Jr. from shortstop and second base to the left outfield corner. He steps up his game, but once again struggles with minor injuries at the end of the season.

He makes name with his 20+ homerun and extra base hits seasons in 2019 and 2021 (in a COVID-shortened 2020 season he is on track as well with 11 homeruns), but his 2022 season is disastrous in that sense, as he pops just 5 homeruns. On December 24 Gurriel Jr., with one year remaining on his contract before becoming a free agent, becomes part of the Daulton Varsho trade. Varsho, considered an established big leaguer, is swapped for upcoming talent and catcher Gabriel Moreno, but Hazen also asks for an established bat and gets one in the Cuban righty.

It is a trade that does not get much attention in the media:

“this is a blockbuster for the nerds and hardcore seamheads” - FanGraphs on the Varsho-Moreno trade on January 3, 2023

“External opinions seem hard to come by - likely an offshoot of the trade happening just before the Christmas weekend!” - Jim McLennan on the AZSnakePit while reviewing the Varsho-Moreno trade on December 24, 2022

And within the trade, all eyes are probably more set on Daulton Varsho and Gabriel Moreno: Gurriel seems to be the completely underrated part in the trade.

But Hazen probably knew better than that:

“Gurriel is a good hitter. He did have some power issues in 2022 that may be related to his hamate injury. It seems like it was a major factor in Gurriel’s 2022. Possibly a couple months is what they heard, but they don’t know precisely what that means. He potentially grinded through that injury which showcases a mentality they like. Gurriel may be one of the team’s best hitters in 2023.” - Quotes from Mike Hazen, as laid out by Spencer O’Gara in an article on the AZSnakePit on December 24, 2022

2023 review

Starting the season in left field and in the 3-hole, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s start of the season certainly wasn’t one of in the books. In the entire month of April he hit just 1 homerun, though the batting line of .273/.305/.394 wasn’t particularly bad, but probably not what the Diamondbacks had been hoping for in that left corner.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was a very streaky hitter: half of the season he was basically crap, half of the season he was good to outstanding. That second part certainly influenced a many’s mind: his excellent month of May guaranteed his first All Star selection, the final two months of the regular season and the post-season guaranteed his nice paycheck to return to the desert and a very good rating in the eyes of SnakePitters.

Months
Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
April/March 26 24 105 99 12 27 7 1 1 13 1 0 4 17 .273 .305 .394 .699 39 4 1 0 1 0 0 .317 84 92
May 24 23 101 91 18 32 7 1 8 18 0 0 9 15 .352 .416 .714 1.130 65 5 1 0 0 0 0 .353 189 203
June 21 21 90 84 5 16 4 0 4 18 0 0 5 18 .191 .244 .381 .625 32 2 1 0 0 0 0 .194 61 69
July 23 21 92 88 6 14 5 0 2 8 1 0 3 14 .159 .196 .284 .480 25 3 1 0 0 0 2 .167 25 29
August 25 24 100 91 13 26 5 0 5 11 2 0 7 20 .286 .340 .506 .846 46 4 1 0 1 1 0 .313 119 126
Sept/Oct 26 26 104 98 11 29 7 0 4 14 1 0 5 19 .296 .337 .490 .826 48 2 1 0 0 0 0 .333 115 123
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/25/2023.

What certainly influences the perception as well is the “clutchiness” of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. as well, something a Blue Jays fan already mentioned in one of the linked articles above.

  • In high leverage situations he had an impressive .339/.376/.688 batting line, with 9 homeruns.
  • A .529 slugging percentage with 2 outs and runners in scoring position.

Let us enjoy the hard hits:

FanGraphs analysed perfectly that the Diamondbacks were probably one of the smarter teams this off-season in getting Gurriel (back):

“Even while projecting fewer home runs for Gurriel and anticipating the normal start of his decline years, ZiPS sees his new deal as eminently reasonable given free-agent standards, projecting a three-year, $41.1 million contract. [...] While it’s subtle, he made incremental improvements in plate discipline. It’s not obvious from the bottom-line strikeout and walk totals, but he had his best year in contact percentage, has shaved off nearly a third of his swinging-strike rate in two years, and started off on fewer 0–1 counts than he ever had before. [...] If we accept that Arizona needed to sign a corner outfielder, there was no obviously superior option available (excluding Lee and Bellinger, DBE). [...] I’m more confident about Gurriel’s defensive abilities than I am in Jorge Soler’s, and in a theoretical choice between Gurriel and, say, Teoscar Hernández, I see nothing wrong with going with the player that you know, who just hit in the middle of the order for you in the World Series! If anything surprises me about this signing, it’s the teams that didn’t sign him, or at least drive up the price.” - Dan Szymborski on FanGraphs, discussing the Lourdes Gurriel signing, December 18 2023

In a previous article they mentioned the weak outfield market and that Lourdes was probably a better player than Nick Castellanos, without making the money Castellanos does, pointing out the strong throwing arm Gurriel has. Jim McLennan also mentioned the strong defensive numbers. And not only that, you won’t see Castellanos make these 2023 plays:

2024 outlook

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will play left field for the Diamondbacks for the next two seasons. What can we expect according to Makakilo?

  • His trend of improved batting will continue. Most significantly, his home runs will not decline nearly as much as projected.
  • His strikeouts per plate appearance, his whiffs per pitch, and his balls-in-play are excellent and will continue to improve.
  • His excellent defense will continue.
  • He adds positive intangibles to the team.

And we will wrap up with what the player himself has to say about his return to Arizona: