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Early-season facts that you can’t ignore about Yuli Gurriel

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Is the contract extension the Astros gave to Gurriel looking like a steal?

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It’s early. I know it is. As of Tuesday morning, the Astros have only played five games in the 2021 regular season. But just as there are players with disappointing beginnings, there are others that have impressed so far, and one of them is Yuli Gurriel.

Last year, the Astros handed a contract extension to Gurriel in the middle of his struggles and right before the postseason, where it actually became even worse. But Gurriel, in his age-37 season, wasted no time shutting his detractors up.

“La Piña” is hitting for a .500 batting average, a result of nine hits across 18 at-bats. He’s recorded a double, a home run, and three runs driven in. One of the most unexpected aspects of Gurriel’s game so far is that he’s walked six times, which is atypical for him.

Gurriel has recorded a base on balls in 25% of his plate appearances, that’s the ninth-highest mark in the American League and the best on the team. Just for reference, Yuli’s lifetime BB% is just 4.9% (!!!) and he registered only 12 walks in 230 PAs last season.

Along with his above-average contact (79.5%), these are premium skills for the Cuban veteran. He has gone from taking 3.43 pitches per plate appearances last year to 4.29 in this one. He’s controlling the strike zone and showing good eye, discipline. Take a look at every ball he’s seen thus far and how close some of them are to the strike zone...

Baseball Savant

But there’s more of Gurriel besides walks. He’s been outstanding in terms of hitting the ball hard, even way more than before.

Just take a look at this...

Average exit velocity: 95.5 MPH, 2021 | 89.5 MPH, career

Barrel%: 11.8%, 2021 | 3.1%, career

HardHit%: 70.6%, 2021 | 39.2%, career

XBA: .423, 2021 | .273, career

XSLG: .669, 2021 | .401, career

Another positive point about Gurriel in the early stages of 2021 is how he’s been killing fastballs. After posting a .219 batting average and a .359 slugging percentage in ‘20, he began the season with a .500 BA and .714 SLG off heaters.

Whether Gurriel can maintain these changes or this approach remains to be seen, but so far, he’s thriving in 2021 to vindicate himself after a rough 2020.