Thanks to a left-hand surgery during spring training and early season suspension, it just felt like Yuli Gurriel‘s season never had a chance to take off in the same way as he did in 2017.
Gurriel, the Astros‘ primary first baseman, was a key contributor behind the team’s success during the 2017 championship run. A 119 wRC+ in 564 plate appearances during his first full season in the major leagues isn’t too shabby. Houston fans will never forget his game-tying home run off of Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 of the World Series last year. While Gurriel’s 2018 season wasn’t too far off the mark in certain metrics, it feels like he wasn’t quite himself.
Offensive numbers: .291/.323/.428, 13 HR, 85 RBI, 107 wRC+, .138 ISO, 1.2 fWAR
Defensive numbers at first base: 873 innings, 99 plays, -3 DRS, -2.1 UZR, 4 errors
Note that Gurriel also covered second base, third base, and a bit of shortstop at various points during the season, but he did the bulk of his fielding work at first base.
Overall, Gurriel posted comparable numbers between the past two seasons. His BABIP was nearly the same along with his walk and strikeout numbers. Average exit velocity for the past two seasons were only off by 0.6 MPH, which isn’t much. Launch angle was a bit different, although it wasn’t a notable change. The average distance on batted ball results did drop by six feet this year compared to last season.
The key difference between Gurriel’s two full major league seasons is the noticeable decline in slugging percentage and isolated power (ISO). In 2017, Gurriel posted a .486 slugging percentage and a .187 ISO. Both of those figures dropped to .428 and .138, respectively. Basically, Gurriel hit more singles while accumulating less extra-base hits. A trade off, if you will, as this development does shed light behind why his average batted ball distance dropped by six feet. Hits that were going for doubles last year were likely singles this season.
The left-hand surgery that he had at the start of spring training was to remove the hamate bone hook. The article is a bit dated as it originates from 2014, but Stuart Wallace of Beyond the Box Score notes that players who have the surgery will eventually recover their lost power. The only catch seems to be roughly a full season of at-bats for the numbers to eventually stabilize again. In some cases listed in his article, a player’s power seems to have improved following the surgery and initial recover time. For what it’s worth, Gurriel’s power numbers did jump over the last month of the regular season from a .380 slugging percentage in August to a .567 mark in September/October. The same applies to his ISO, which jumped from .141 in August to .211 in September/October.
Regular season grade: B
Despite a strong performance to finish the season, Gurriel didn’t exactly have the best postseason. Across 36 plate appearances in eight games, the Astros’ first baseman slashed .226/.333/.387 with one home run and two doubles. His home run in Game 1 of the ALCS helped seal Houston’s only win of the series. To his credit, he did draw five walks and one intentional walks compared to five strikeouts. However, he had a combined -0.411 Win Probability Added. Like most of the Astros’ hitters, especially in the ALCS, he struggled from Game 2 onwards.
Postseason grade: C
Gurriel had a solid season once you’ve considered all of the circumstances. Like I stated at the beginning, it just felt like he never got rolling like he did at time last year. Unfortunately for him and the Astros, he entered a slump for most of the ALCS. I’m curious to see how team management utilizes him next season, especially if Marwin Gonzalez departs via free agency. He can play a passable defense at most positions in the infield, so the Astros may have a utility replacement for Gonzalez already on the roster.