Yuli Gurriel’s performance fell off a cliff for the Houston Astros in 2020.
To simply say that Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel struggled offensively in 2020 would be telling only part of the story. His regular season numbers weren’t good, and he really had a tough time in the playoffs, but there is reason to believe he’ll bounce back next year.
That’s important because the Astros signed Gurriel to a contract extension for 2021. He will earn a base salary of $6.5 million with the possibility of an additional $2 million in incentives. The team also has an $8 million option for 2022 with a $500,000 buyout, so they clearly believe the 36-year-old has something left in the tank. Personally, I think so too.
Overall, Gurriel hit .232/.274/.384 in 57 games with 12 doubles, six homers and 22 RBIs. His OPS and adjusted OPS were the worst of his career, and he compiled -0.3 WAR per Baseball Reference. He was still solid defensively and was named a finalist for a Gold Glove Award for the second straight year, but his bat simply wasn’t good.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. At the end of August, he was hitting .292/.348/.517 on the season and actually hit .305/.346/.558 for the month of August. He was having a typical Gurriel year up to that point, but he hit .154/.168/.209 in September with only three extra-base hits.
The slump largely coincided with Gurriel suffering a hand injury while sliding into second base in early September. He never took the time off that he evidently should have, as he played through the injury while wearing a wrap around his hand. It obviously affected him and seems to be a key reason why his numbers dropped off the table in the season’s final month.
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September’s struggles carried over into October as Gurriel hit only .114 in the playoffs without a single extra-base hit. He did draw five walks in the ALCS and thus had a .333 on-base percentage for that series, but he was otherwise just a shell of himself at the plate. He only struck out three times the whole postseason, but he generated a lot of weak contact and grounded into four double plays.
I haven’t seen any word as to whether the hand issue was still bothering him in the playoffs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. A healthy Gurriel would’ve been a big boost to the team and might have made a difference in the outcome of that ALCS.
Gurriel will be back for 2021 and possibly 2022, so the Astros have to hope his anemic bat the past two months was a result of the hand injury. He will turn 37 next June, so he’s not exactly a spring chicken, but his performance in August shows he still has the capability to be a solid player.
Indeed, whenever you have someone who experiences such a sharp and drastic decline, it’s usually due to injury. Declines due to age are more gradual. We may not see the 30-homer, 100-RBI Gurriel from 2019 anymore, but I feel comfortable expecting something close to what we saw in 2017 and 2018 — .290 average, 15-20 homers, 30-40 doubles and solid defense.