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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is peaking at the perfect time of the season

Since making his Major League debut in 2018, generating consistent offensive results has been one of the biggest areas of concern for outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., however, that certainly hasn’t been the case for him recently.

While the 27-year-old displayed flashes of his potential throughout the first half of this season, maintaining his offensive production over an extended period remained a key issue, which largely prevented the bottom third of the Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup from making a significant impact. As a result, the offence struggled to turn over the batting order at times, limiting the number of scoring opportunities for the top half of the lineup.

Though this offence experienced its worst slump of the season during the middle of August, they’ve done an excellent job at recovering since then, and while accomplishing this feat has been a group effort, Gurriel Jr. has been one of the main forces behind this team’s recent hot streak.

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Sure, almost every player on the 28-man roster has served a critical role in helping the Blue Jays win 15 of their last 17 games, but from an offensive standpoint, no one has enjoyed a stronger resurgence than the 6’4″ left fielder. Despite still being positioned within the bottom half of the lineup, he’s seemingly overcome his previous hitting woes and has transformed into a reliable contributor, particularly with runners in scoring position.

Showcasing this exact trait during the club’s remarkable weekend in Baltimore, Gurriel Jr. drove in 10 runs thanks in part to a trio of home runs, including his fourth grand slam of the season – setting a new franchise record in that regard.

Unlike in the first half of the 2021 campaign, Gurriel Jr. has been significantly more successful at hitting for contact and power over the last month and a half of the schedule. What’s been even more impressive is his new level of plate discipline, which has seen him earning considerably more free passes.

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Expanding on his offensive turnaround, the right-hander has witnessed dramatically improved results since Aug. 1, as he’s produced eight home runs, 38 RBIs, a .287 ISO, a .379 BABIP, a .451 wOBA, an 11.5% walk rate, a 14.4% strikeout rate, a 188 wRC+ score and a slashing line of .361/.432/.648 through 139 plate appearances.

Unfortunately, the soon-to-be 28-year-old wasn’t nearly as effective prior to this recent stretch, resulting in just 11 home runs, 42 RBIs, a .154 ISO, a .294 BABIP, a .300 wOBA, a 4.2% walk rate, a 19.8% strikeout rate, an 87 wRC+ score and a troubling slashing line of .260/.292/.414 over 354 plate appearances.

Based on his inability to generate consistent contact while also failing to lay off pitches out of the zone, it’s probably safe to say most experts didn’t envision a late-season revival from Gurriel Jr., and yet, his refined plate discipline has sparked exactly that. Thanks to this adjustment, his hard contact output has received a major boost, as his hard-hit has increased by 12.0% and his average exit velocity has climbed to 91.8 mph since the start of August.

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Hard-Hit Rate (%) Average Exit Velocity (mph)
April-July 37.5 88.2
August-September 49.5 91.8

Even though teammates Marcus Semien and Teoscar Hernandez have also enjoyed extremely impressive performances during this span, Gurriel Jr.’s outstanding run-producing metrics have allowed him to keep pace with both of them on the leaderboard, making the slugging righty one of the top hitters in the majors.

Putting his hot streak into perspective with the rest of the competition, the former international free agent has registered the second-most RBIs, the third-highest AVG, OBP and wRC+ score, the fifth-highest wOBA and is tied for the sixth-highest fWAR rating (1.7) among all qualified batters in the majors since Aug. 1, according to FanGraphs.com.

Additionally, he’s also recorded the seventh-highest SLG, the 13th-highest BABIP and the 16th-highest ISO amid those same qualifications.

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To truly appreciate Gurriel Jr.’s offensive resurgence, we must dive into the adjustments he’s made against fastballs and breaking balls, which are two pitch types he struggled mightily with earlier in the season. In particular, four-seamers and sliders troubled him the most in the first half, leading to his lack of consistency and low walk totals.

Starting with his results against straight-moving heaters, the native of Cuba posted a miserable .218 AVG, .275 xAVG, .311 SLG, .456 xSLG, .250 wOBA, .334 xwOBA, .092 ISO and a .245 BABIP over 101 batted-ball events from April-July, according to BaseballSavant.com.

Considering Gurriel Jr. couldn’t create much contact or power against four-seamers, opposing pitchers quickly caught on and continued to exploit this weakness, ultimately leading to a 4.6% walk rate and a 16.8% strikeout rate during that same span. Fortunately, he’s been able to improve significantly since the calendar turned to August, and has thrived against this offering ever since then.

Over his 30 batted-ball events since Aug. 1, the former top prospect has generated a .353 AVG, .346 xAVG, .676 SLG, .663 xSLG, .467 wOBA, .467 xwOBA, .324 ISO, .357 BABIP, 15.0% walk rate and a 10.0% strikeout rate.

Experiencing a similar progression against sliders, they proved to be extremely challenging throughout the first half for Gurriel Jr. as he failed to put them in play consistently, resulting in a high amount of swings and misses. But as he’s improved his contact and plate discipline skills, so has his production against those pitches, helping him execute this late-season turnaround.

Overcoming his previous struggles, the Blue Jays’ left fielder has produced an impressive .419 AVG, .742 SLG, .492 wOBA, .323 ISO, .458 BABIP, 8.6% walk rate and a 17.1% strikeout rate over his last 26 batted-ball events against sliders.

In comparison, he recorded a .208 AVG, .358 SLG, .251 wOBA, .151 ISO, .237 BABIP, 3.6% walk rate and a 25.0% strikeout rate through 40 batted-ball events from April-July.

Now, if Gurriel Jr. hopes to sustain this stellar production through the rest of the way, it’ll be crucial to maintain his current plate discipline and hard contact metrics moving forward. In addition, it’d also be very beneficial to continue inducing high amounts of contact, whether that’s against pitches located in or out of the zone – consistent contact usually results in quality at-bats for the right-hander.

With Toronto directly in the hunt for an American League Wild Card seed, there’s no question they’re counting on their offence to continue leading the way through the remainder of the regular season. With the bottom of their lineup making strong contributions down the stretch, it doesn’t seem they’ll be slowing down any time soon.

For Gurriel Jr., this recent stretch has arguably been one of the most impressive runs of his professional career, so rather than looking back on his first-half woes, everyone should be enjoying this moment while it’s here.