AnalysisNL West

The D-backs are Counting on Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. agreed to a three-year, $32 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, per Jeff Passan. The team holds a $14 million club option for a fourth year, while Gurriel can elect free agency after two seasons. Gurriel, acquired last December from Toronto, gets a chance to expand on a spirited first season with the Diamondbacks, at times propelling Arizona’s lineup on its improbable run to the World Series. The 30-year-old slashed a productive .261/.309/.463 for a 108 OPS+ (8% above average) in a career-high 145 games.

Lourdes’ overall stats last season were much in line with his career numbers, a smidge below his 115 OPS+ six-year career average with the Blue Jays, though his actual hitting campaign wasn’t as clear cut. Lourdes was the tale of two stories at the plate last year. 

At his peak in 2023, the Cuba native was an elite hitter, giving the Diamondbacks more than they could’ve expected when acquiring him as the lesser – and perhaps temporary – part of a blockbuster deal revolving around up-and-coming catcher Gabriel Moreno, whose first legitimate shot in the majors this year was filled with promise.

Spanning April 8th – eight games into the regular season – through June 10th, Gurriel slashed a whopping .335/.388/.630 with 10 homers and a team-high in RBIs (36) and doubles (17) in 188 plate appearances, good for a league-high .428 wOBA (weighted on-base percentage) among 154 qualified batters. He was raking, and so were his teammates, batting to a top-five lineup per OPS (.781) in the league. The team went 35-21 during that two-month stretch while leading the division in 29 of those 56 games. Lourdes’ impact was clearly felt not just by the team, but by the fans, too. Midway through the season, the organization released a limited edition wig matching his vibrant, spiky purple hair that quickly became a must-have item at Chase Field. 

Once he cooled off, the righty fell into a dreadful slump, slashing a dismal .157/.204/.299 for a league-worst .216 wOBA among 179 qualified batters from June 11th through the end of July. During that span, the team went 17-25 and fell to third place in the division, tied with the Brewers for the third and final NL Wild Card spot. 

PABB%K%ISOBABIPwOBAxwOBA
April 8th to June 10th1886.9%14%.295.353.428.365
June 11th to July 30th1624.3%16.7%.131.157.216.262
Lourdes Gurriel 2023 stats per Baseball Savant

Going from arguably the hottest to worst hitter in baseball was freaky, especially considering Gurriel remained a similar type of hitter in a lot of ways between the two stretches – he maintained a slightly below-average walk rate and a strong K rate. His sensational rise and subsequent dry spell were, however, influenced by some batted-ball luck, suggesting some negative (then positive) regression was in store for him. His .364 xwOBA (expected weighted on-base percentage) compared to his actual .428 wOBA, as well as a .353 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) compared to his career .316 BABIP, suggested he was overperforming. When he got cold, his production cut in half – his ISO (isolated power) went from .295 to .131 and wOBA from .428 to .216 until August. A .157 BABIP was definitely not sustainable – a hitter has never recorded a BABIP nearly that low in a single season.

Looking deeper at Gurriel’s stats, below are two tables of batted-ball data found on BaseballSavant.com comparing Gurriel’s hot streak (the first table) to his cold streak (the second table). The first column displays his Batted Ball% (percentage of batted balls for each batted-ball type), and the second his batting average on them. The parentheses indicate which percentile he ranked in during the span. 

April 8th to June 10thBatted-Ball% (percentile)Batting Average (percentile)
Fly Ball23% (31st).441 BA (95th)
Line Drive27% (79th).650 BA (54th)
Ground Ball45% (61st).262 BA (62nd)
Lourdes Gurriel batted-ball data, per Baseball Savant
June 11th to July 30thBatted-Ball% (percentile)Batting Average (percentile)
Fly Ball29% (63rd).194 BA (16th)
Line Drive15% (1st).632 BA (33rd)
Ground Ball48% (79th).060 BA (1st)
Lourdes Gurriel batted-ball data, per Baseball Savant

Gurriel’s batting average on fly balls and grounders between the stretches stands out. The hot streak brought a .441 batting average on fly balls that ranked him in the 95th percentile among qualified hitters in that span. That number sank to .194 BA in his slump for the bottom-fifth of the league. On grounders, his .060 batting average in his slump was the lowest in the league among 74 qualified hitters (min. 25 ground balls), per Baseball Savant. 

Oddly enough, the average exit velocity on his fly balls and grounders in his hot streak was about the same – a tad lower even – than the cold streak. Gurriel was a good pull-hitter on fly balls in his hot streak, hitting them to left field 41% of the time versus a 25% career average, which is around the league average. Lourdes’ line-drive rate also stands out a lot, going from a 27% line-drive rate (79th percentile) to 15% for last in the bigs. Then from August through the end of the regular season, Lourdes’ 36% line drive rate was the absolute best among 70 hitters with at least 150 batted-ball events in that span.

Come the August 1st trade deadline, D-backs General Manager Mike Hazen wasn’t going to take a chance taking the team to its first playoff since 2017, so he acquired Tommy Pham from the Mets to give Arizona’s outfield another right-handed bat. Gurriel managed to find a medium between his scorching hot bat and subsequent putrid production for the final two months of the regular season. In 204 plate appearances, he batted to an above-average .840 OPS, the second-highest on the team. 

Gurriel graded as a subpar defender per DRS (defensive runs saved) and OAA (outs above average) with a strong arm in his six MLB seasons with the Blue Jays, though he put on a career-best defensive season once he joined a team known for its outfield defense in Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy. With Gurriel proving his defensive value last season, it seems Mike Hazen will make another move to add a full-time designated hitter. The team has been strongly linked to J.D. Martinez, whom Hazen acquired midway through the 2017 season in what has been called one of the best deadline rentals in MLB history. The team has also been linked to free-agent Justin Turner, who DH’d in two-thirds of his plate appearances with the Red Sox last year. 

The Diamondbacks have been active this offseason after coming off of their most thrilling season in a while, and there may be more surprises before they suit up next Spring. For now, Lourdes re-signing is getting them one step closer.

Paul Beckman

Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Paul Beckman graduated from Arizona State University in 2022.

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