Like most savvy baseball fans, I spend a fair bit of free time traversing the wonderful world of player leaderboards. Personally, I prefer FanGraphs, but Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus are a close second and third in my mind. No matter the site, though, a leaderboard is a place where I can quickly see who is performing particularly well (hello, Yordan Alvarez) or why someone is struggling (don’t get me started about Tyler White).
But there are times when something that obviously stands out, even if you’re well aware of the situation unfolding before your very eyes. For me, this reality hit me like a load of bricks when I was viewing how many home run Yuli Gurriel actually has this season. Twenty-seven home runs, to be exact.
It is a fact that Gurriel has been on a tear since mid-June. He has simply been one of the club’s best hitters this summer as he has slashed .366/.416/.732 with 22 home runs and a 200 wRC+ since June 17. Only Alex Bregman (32) and George Springer (28) are ahead of Gurriel as the club’s home run leaders for this season. As we can see in the numbers and in person, the Astros’ first baseman has been a force and opposing pitchers have paid a dear price.
We’re all mostly familiar about the specific causes behind this improvement, so I won’t rehash the finer details today. That said, those adjustments has allowed Gurriel to see the ball better. In turn, I’d like to believe that has greatly enabled him to hit more four-seam fastballs, or any other pitch, for home runs. Here is a pitch breakdown from 2016-18 when the first baseman hit a home run.
As we can gather, Gurriel, in his first 1,274 plate appearances, only had 7 home runs off of a four-seam fastball. In the subsequent 535 plate appearances, we’ve seen that figure rise to 9 four-base hits via a four-seam fastball.
I also believe the much-discussed changes to the actual baseball has held a role in this sudden surge in not only Gurriel, but also many hitters in the game. The home runs, however, continue to attract my attention. In only 257 plate appearances since June 17, Gurriel has hit 22 home runs. Only Mike Trout (24) and Eugenio Suarez (23) have more. That is kinda wild. We’re talking about a hitter who had just 5 home runs in his preceding 278 plate appearances to start the season. He had a notable decline in power the previous season, thanks to, in part, hamate bone surgery. By the way, if we take his home run rate since June 17 and apply it on a 162-game basis, Gurriel would project to have roughly 59 dingers. Before the 2019 season, he had just 34 home runs in his first 311 major league games.
While I know deep down in my soul that the Astros’ first baseman likely can’t maintain this current pace long-term, it is impressive to see such a turnaround in this category from an age-35 hitter. Thanks to Play Index, we know his 2019 home run season total is currently ranked 28th by a hitter who is at least 35-years old since 2010. To be fair, that is not particularly spectacular. But seven more dingers would automatically vault him into the top-ten in a list that is mostly Nelson Cruz and David Ortiz. Again, kinda of wild when you consider Gurriel’s lack of propensity for home runs in his major league career before this summer.